Day by day as I write, evidence continues to surface about just how close we came to losing democracy in the United States. Right-Wing extremists and religious zealots nearly disrupted the peaceful transfer of power on January 6, 2021. They’re still trying. And it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that sometime in the near future likeminded people will succeed in seizing control of the United States government. It’s a theme that has given birth to a host of dystopian novels over the years, most notably including Sinclair Lewis’ It Can’t Happen Here (1935) and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985). Evette Davis updates the theme in 48 States, portraying the US in the grip of a fascist nightmare two decades down the road. The novel is a truly disturbing picture of a near future America.
A shaky assumption
Davis’ novel rests on the shaky but convenient premise that a future iteration of ISIS succeeds in assassinating almost all the country’s leaders. Progressive Secretary of State Elizabeth Cunningham is the highest-ranking survivor and rises to the presidency. Immense pressures force her to disband Congress, cancel elections, institute nationwide surveillance, deport aliens, and enter into a hare-brained scheme advanced by a Texas oil mogul. By presidential order, two states—North Dakota and Wyoming—are now “Energy Territories” managed by the mogul’s company, Universal Industries. Fracking is now the order of the day, producing millions of barrels of oil to release the US from dependence on the Middle East.
48 States by Evette Davis (2022) 236 pages ★★★★☆
Characters brilliantly portrayed
Improbable circumstances aside, 48 States is a wrenching near future dystopia that manages to push any liberal reader’s buttons. But it’s also a great read, because Davis so skillfully portrays her characters. The principal figures in the story are all finely drawn in three dimensions. It’s difficult not to relate to them as the tale unfolds. And the novel’s plot is uncomplicated, focusing the reader on the human dimensions of the tale. The thrust of the story quickly becomes clear as we meet the central characters.
Jennifer Petersen, known as River, is an ex-soldier and war widow who has moved to North Dakota. She drives a truck there, hauling waste from the oil fields, earning the money she needs to support her mother and three-year-old daughter back in Idaho. Driving home one night she spots a wounded man standing in the middle of the road. Against all the rules, since he is clearly a fugitive, she picks him up and takes him to the motel room where she stays.
The wounded man calls himself Finn. He’s a hydrologist who had been taking samples from the Missouri River to determine whether Universal Industries has been polluting the water. (No surprise: they have been.) River calls him “Ivy League,” and the nickname is apt. He holds an advanced Yale degree and clearly comes from a wealthy family.
Red and Cooper
Meanwhile, we learn that Finn’s wounds weren’t an accident. Redmond Pierce, known as Red, the CEO of Universal Industries, reveals in conversation with Cooper Smith, his security chief, that he had ordered Finn killed and is distressed that the young man is still alive. But Cooper’s order to wound, not to kill Finn, was just the first step in his growing effort to resist Red’s megalomania.
All the while we gain insight into the perspective of President Elizabeth Cunningham, who is struggling to combat Red Pierce’s mad schemes to drive the United States further into fascism. The President misses her husband and son, both of them missing somewhere in the West.
About the author
In the bio on her author website, Evette Davis writes that she “is the author of 48 States and Woman King and Dark Horse, the first two installments of The Dark Horse Trilogy. When she’s not writing novels, Davis dispenses advice to some of the country’s largest corporations, non-profits, and institutions as a consultant and co-owner of BergDavis Public Affairs, an award-winning San Francisco-based public affairs firm. Before establishing her firm, Davis worked in Washington as a press secretary for a member of Congress and as a reporter for daily newspapers in the San Francisco Bay Area. . . Evette splits her time between San Francisco and Sun Valley, Idaho, with her husband, daughter, and dog.”
For more reading
For more good reading, check out:
- The top 10 dystopian novels reviewed here
- These novels won both Hugo and Nebula Awards
- The ultimate guide to the all-time best science fiction novels
- 10 top science fiction novels
- 10 best alternate history novels reviewed here
- Seven new science fiction authors worth reading
You’ll also find books that explore the prospects for fascism in America at Top 10 nonfiction books about politics.
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