Meanwhile, kids in Row House play the divers’ game, the goal of which is to swim from one interconnected lake to another through a deep tunnel without drowning. “It’s rough,” Eben, a quad boy, explains. “By the time you get along it your eyes star up, I mean you’re all dizzy and seeing lights, and then you have to go mad, you have to brutalize and just kick and kick and use it all and then you end up on the surface.” The threat of death by suffocation, a fraught passage from one area to another, “brutalizing” to survive — the society in “The Divers’ Game” uses rituals like festivals and games to paper over its own violence. They merely reveal how untenable that violence is.
By Rob Hart
358 pp. Crown. $27.
In the near future of “The Warehouse,” all of our anxious prognostications have finally been realized. Cloud, “the biggest electronic retail and cloud computing company in the world,” has taken over the American economy and climate change has rendered vast parts of the world unlivable; the Cloud campus (“MotherCloud”), where much of the novel’s action takes place, sits amid ghost towns and blazing, parched heat. Working at Cloud might be pure drudgery — one character, Zinnia, dashes around the campus’s huge warehouse, fetching items and dropping them on conveyor belts for hours at a time — but it beats trying to make a living in the tatters of civil society outside.
But life inside, while air-conditioned, is a noxious mélange of constant surveillance and sexual harassment, a culture that aggressively pits employees against one another. Paxton, a beaten-down C.E.O. turned Cloud security guard, falls hopelessly in love with Zinnia for no discernible reason other than her beauty. Too bad Zinnia is a corporate spy, tasked by a mystery employer to determine what the MotherCloud is using as a source of power. Cloud has all the trappings of a sinister tech company, and MotherCloud’s facilities, payment systems and promotional videos are outlined in excruciating, on-the-nose detail. One wishes the novel’s characters came with as much depth.
Online retail behemoth though Cloud may be, Hart’s villain isn’t simply a lightly veiled Amazon. Instead, it’s the belief that brazen capitalism is the sole solution to the world’s problems — a belief embodied by Cloud’s C.E.O., the cancer-stricken Gibson Wells, who loathes unions and whose mantra is “the market dictates.” It’s also the complacency that allows Amazon and companies like it to thrive regardless of the harm they cause. “The system is broken. There’s only one way to fix it. Burn it down and start fresh,” says one of the book’s few conscientious objectors. “It’s not supposed to feel good.” As a polemic, “The Warehouse” is full-throated and sweeping. As a story, though, it might leave customers less than satisfied.