Sloth – Joanne Askew (Queer Space)

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Queer Space

The rise of COVID has affected every facet of our society, and our literature is no exception. Apocalyptic, dystopian scenarios now seem to be more popular than ever, some set closer to reality than others even though reality is getting harder to distinguish from fiction. Into this bleak landscape strides Joanne Askew’s novella, Sloth, a story of how two women cope with not only the virus but the dissolution of the life they had together.

A year into the carnage wrought by the Sloth virus, which kills if you can’t run get your heart rate up every three hours, Natali and Lana are on the lam, looking to find a rumored treatment center. But traveling is difficult in this post-collapse environment, and the two meet up with some interesting characters before achieving their goal. And that goal comes with a high price, indeed.

If that sounds vague and insubstantial, please understand this is a novella which works best in terms of mood and character rather than a plethora of plot, and the details I could give you would serve as spoilers and flatten the emotional peaks. Askew works for an atmosphere of freefall dread where anything can happen, mostly bad, and she accomplishes that from her opening scene, in which Tali kills a suffering child who is dying, trapped so he can’t run to increase his heart rate.

In the hands of a less capable writer, this could be pretty turgid stuff, but Askew is excellent at her craft, spinning the story with lively, vivid images and memorable, though simple, dialogue. And even though it’s short on plot, it still has emotional twists and turns that will keep you reading and wish the story hadn’t ended so quickly.

Speaking of its brevity, if I can find fault here, it’s that Askew hasn’t left the camera aperture on this landscape open long enough. It’s over far too soon for me, but this glimpse into a world somehow even more desperate than ours may be just about all some can tolerate. Either way, Sloth is an interesting and absorbing read.

JW

© 2022 Jerry L. Wheeler

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