Flet: A Novel

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

Interest in connections between poetry and science fiction is nothing new. In the early ’80s, programmers assembled a computer program called Racter, which “authored” The Policeman’s Beard Is Half Constructed. In some ways, we’ve come full circle: These days, Flarf School poets let Google compose their verse. But it’s rare that experimental poets actually write speculative fiction—until now.

In Flet, poet Joyelle McSweeney depicts a dystopia reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and despite some mind-boggling moments, the result is largely satisfying. Set in an oppressive country called Nation, in the wake of a catastrophic event known as Emergency (or E-Day), the episodic book recounts the misadventures of its title character, a government lackey who grows skeptical of the propaganda piped into citizens’ homes, which makes no references to the distant past. “Why should everything from before E-Day be off-limits?” she asks her colleague Mick. In a scene out of a Mad Max sequel, they road-trip onto the “Great Deciduous Plateau,” out to “Old Capital,” to see what’s been left behind.

As with most language poetry (but not the best sci-fi novels), Flet doesn’t offer much insight into the interior world of the characters. Even exteriors are wafty: In one scene, Flet turns into a gas when she falls asleep, a topic never addressed again. But thankfully, the surface sheen of McSweeney’s beautiful and pristine language accomplishes its primary goal, which is to imagine a commentary on ludicrous political doublespeak. “It’s time to be exemplary again,” McSweeney’s narrator says. Equal parts battle cry and cry for help, Flet, like an epic poem, instructs us how to react to a control-mongering government not entirely unlike our own.

—Daniel Nester

By Joyelle McSweeney.Fence Books, $15 paperback.