by Sophie Mackintosh
2020, Hardcover, 279 pages
Reviewed by Jennifer Goldenberg
A timely novel about women’s choices being taken away and the frightening paths that they are forced to take against their will.
Blue Ticket takes place in a post apocalyptic dystopian future, though it does not read like sci fi; no spaceships or anything supernatural in this novel. A straightforward premise: When a girl starts her period she must report to the “station” where her fate is chosen for her. She will take a ticket from a machine. Either she will marry and have children (white ticket) or she will be a childless but independent career woman (blue ticket). Not both. No option to be a career woman and a mother. She does not get a choice. This is the central point of the novel – she does not get to choose her own destiny. The blue ticket girls are brainwashed into believing that they are the fortunate ones, that someone (who? It is not clear who makes these decisions) knows better than they do, that they are not meant to be mothers. “Blue ticket: Don’t underestimate the relief of a decision taken away from you….blue ticket: there was a flaw (in me) that I should not pass on….”
Calla, the protagonist, is a blue ticket woman who decides to get pregnant despite the danger.
It’s not made clear to the reader (or even Calla herself) why she actively decides to have a child: after all, it is “treasonous” for a blue ticket woman to become a mother. If they do become pregnant, she must either choose to abort or “get a 12 hour headstart” on escaping, since the authorities will pursue her. Calla chooses the latter.
Sophie Mackintosh doesn’t use quotation marks, and this style makes the first person narration feel heavy (pregnant?) and trance like, as though reminiscing about the past, or sitting in her therapist’s (Dr. A) office, or walking through air thick with humidity and uncertainty.
Significantly, Mackintosh does not give her male characters any names, just initials. “Dr. A,” her therapist; “R,” her lover – even her father is not given a name. Women are given first names only, and this is another distinguishing literary tactic. It is men in this story who make all the rules, who render judgments on the women, who feel they know better than women.
As Calla makes her quest to “the city,” where freedom awaits, she predictably encounters other blue ticket women who are pregnant and escaping. All made the choice to give birth to a new generation of children who will hopefully be able to choose how they want to live in “the city” – a name for a free world. “My name is Calla and I wanted to choose,” she says near the end of the story.
It’s all – and always will be – about the freedom of choice.
Jennifer Goldenberg is a clerk in the Monroe County Public Library System.