Sarah Rose Etter, known for her 2019 novel The Book of X, has crafted another poignant narrative in Ripe, her latest novel that presents an unsettling view of life in Silicon Valley. Continuing her signature use of surrealism, the narrative follows Cassie, a 33-year-old tech worker navigating the corporate world amidst personal crises and societal chaos marked by wildfires and a deadly virus.
Etter masterfully juxtaposes the world inside Cassie’s startup, VOYAGER, with the reality outside its gleaming campus. Cassie observes the cult-like devotion of her co-workers, identified by their company attire and constant engagement with their phones. In contrast, she witnesses the grim reality of homelessness on the streets, a stark reminder of societal inequities.
Cassie’s life is a struggle against the relentless demands of her work, the indifference of fleeting relationships, the high living costs, and an unplanned pregnancy. She grapples with anxiety, anger, and the implications of her involvement in an illicit hacking plot. Amid these tumultuous experiences, Cassie finds herself drawn to a black hole visible only to her, a powerful metaphor that fluctuates with her emotional state, deepening the novel’s surreal ambiance.
Etter’s novel shares parallels with works like Mona Awad’s “Bunny,” Raven Leilani’s “Luster,” and Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley,” all of which explore the horrors camouflaged in mundane routines. However, unlike Wiener’s protagonist, Cassie doesn’t have a financial safety net or family wealth to fall back on, making her feel trapped in her situation. Cassie’s experience is a vivid portrayal of the grim realities of a toxic work environment and the pressures of high living costs, and the fear of unemployment.
In a climactic twist, Cassie’s escape route involves succumbing to her black hole, an action that remains ambiguous, suggesting a new beginning or an end. Through Cassie’s journey, Etter continues to employ surrealism to critique contemporary work-life reality. Echoing the works of writers like Carmen Maria Machado, Barbara Molinard, Leonora Carrington, Dizz Tate, Aimee Bender, and Ottessa Moshfegh, Etter highlights the absurdity and brutality of human behavior, and the stifling power dynamics that suppress individuality and freedom.
Etter’s potent storytelling in Ripe illuminates the harsh realities camouflaged in routine corporate life. She deftly balances the narrative between the individual despair of her protagonist and broader societal decay, offering a thought-provoking critique of a superficial, capitalist society. Through Cassie’s sober reflections on her life and work, Etter breathes life into the vivid expression of our contemporary reality, emphasizing the continued potency of surrealism in literary narratives.