Book Review - I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane

Dystopian fiction is having a renaissance in adult fiction. From last year's Our Missing Hearts to The School for Good Mothers, we continue to see a leap in sophistication and scope for dystopian fiction. The question is, as new fiction separates itself from the didactic and often quite expository dystopias of yesteryear (see Brave New World, 1984 and Fahrenheit 451), how "in the dark" can the audience be about its world and society?

I Keep My Exoskeletons to Myself certainly tries to push the boundaries of what the author is willing to reveal. What we know is society grants those who commit crimes or are considered deviants are granted a second shadow. A scarlet letter of shame that follows them around for everyone to see the error of their ways. The twist of this text is that Kris, who already has a shadow, loses her wife during childbirth and this newborn child is granted a shadow. 

The story is less about these shadows and more of a story about grief. What happens when you lose the person closest to you? These moments flit by and are often mesmerizing, but they feel at odds with the darkness of a world that punishes people with such public exhibitions. The first half of the book feels tender and true to the deceased spouse; meanwhile, the daughter is a pip. She goes against the grain of society at every moment and because she's tarnished at birth, her Pearl-esque nature feels delightful albeit quite bombastic at times.

The grief of the world is fascinating, but what propelled me forward was the veil that lifts itself to tells us more about the society. From the current president to the assembly of the shadows, that world is the one I wanted to know more about. Unfortunately, we never quite get the details. This is something that writers have to bare with the readers. Readers want to know more, but many current dystopian books leave these details absent. 

My problem is Kris and her child pale in excitement compared to the world around them. A few of the supporting characters do measure up, a shadester who moves in with Kris and an officer for the city known to visit BDSM clubs offer glimpses of what the book could be. But the main characters can't quite sustain the same level of interest. 

Much of the first half of the book is exhilarating. The set-up and the subsequent grief are beautifully told. 

Surprisingly, the world is quite explicit. Every cavity, orifice and appendage on the human body is explored with vivid detail. The book has something to say about sex and its connection to grief. It shows the layers that Crane is threading throughout her book.

Not every thread is followed through and the book feels imperfect in its narrative; that said, it's an admirable text. The scope of the text is grand, and in the end, the book does reveal the heart of the human condition. The momentum here is strong, and ultimately, I am excited about how Crane will follow up this text. While it doesn't quite measure up to The School for Good Mothers, we have text on par with Celeste Ng's Our Missing Hearts, which is not bad company to keep. 

I Keep My Exosekeletons to Myself by Marisa Crane
Release Date: January 17, 2023
MSRP: $27.00

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