Isolation by Denise R. Stephenson is one of those stories that stick with you long after you’ve finished reading it. Like how you’re now aware that you’re holding your jaw up, or your tongue is resting in your mouth, or you’re breathing manually. Suddenly, Isolation makes you aware of the health risks you take daily. The very first snapshot into a character’s life, page one, had me questioning my own habits. Then, as I read on and the fear of bacteria and the ever-increasing preventative measures were put in place, the lines began to blur and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly where I felt it had all become ‘too much.’ Clearly, by the time all touch is outlawed we’ve gone too far, but anti-bacterial hand sanitizer? At one point, genetically altered foods are discussed, big business interests allied with the government may be scapegoated for things, how many further steps do we go today to get to quarantines and isolation?
Stephenson has created a culture of fear, not only of bacterial contamination and sickness, but of information as well. Bans are instituted, new laws are enforced, curfews are enacted, and new jobs are created solely to work within the parameters of this new society – one where ‘natural causes’ is no longer a recognized valid cause of death. Nothing is questioned when a new law comes down from the higher ups to be enforced, but new and better anti-bacterial washes come out, kits to help bind your baby’s hands to keep them from accidentally touching their own faces, internet scrubbers are hired to take information off of the net are all readily available.
Society breaks down into three basic groups. Homelanders… well, they stay at home. Maggie is the main Homelander we follow, along with her mother and son, and her life consists of creating her daily allotment of energy, scrubbing the internet, and eating. That’s about it, no one leaves their homes, no one touches each other, no one contacts anyone outside of their own bubble. Sterilizers like Gary do nothing but clean the infected day in and day out – surrounded by people and yet their environment is designed to keep them from forging any connections, from feeling anything. The Chief Enforcer in the area is Trevor, whose OCD makes him uniquely equipped to enforce as he watches for infractions and makes sure all rules are followed.
The world-building in Isolation is fantastic, starting off somewhat disjointed and lost, leaving the reader to feel just as confused as the characters this is happening to. The story progresses in a way that makes it plausible that it has already been put in motion in our society today. News articles give snapshots of the world at large outside of just the characters we’re following. It takes until about the last third of the book to really hone in on the singular story being told, but I didn’t mind that because I’ve always loved a well-built world in a book.
The book tour is hosting a giveaway to win one of five print copies of Isolation so you can experience this book for yourself! Unfortunately, it is only open to US residents, but if you check back tomorrow we’ll have an interview with the author and a chance for someone to win an ebook copy of the book, which is open to internationally.