Aron Spilken started writing In Memory of Central Park, a dark vision of what the world might be like by the year 2050, during the Reagan administration of the 1980s. Mr. Spilken died suddenly in the fall of 2003 without ever having finished the novel. Six months later, Queenelle Minet decided to finish the incomplete novel left behind by her husband, and her efforts have produced a disturbing description of one possible future for a world faced with environmental and overpopulation problems just as its civil liberties are under threat.
By 2050, New York City has seceded from the Union and the entire city is under a huge protective dome, a shell that keeps nature out and its citizens in. The city has grown so crowded that an elaborate system of interconnecting hallways between buildings ensures that entire lives are lived indoors. Almost every square inch of the city has had a building placed on it, so that interconnected hallways cross the entire city. Entry into, and exit from, the city are so strictly enforced that most contact with the outside world comes via the truckers who bring in the city’s food and other needed imports.
The city has become a dark world dominated by the Liberty Party, a political party that maintains complete control under the guise of protecting the population from terrorism and the horrible environment surrounding it. Even though there is little personal freedom to be had, with the exception of a few citizens determined to expose the truth about life in New York City, everyone seems willing to trade freedom for security and insulation from outsiders. The claustrophobic atmosphere Minet describes, one in which people have had to adapt to the almost constant presence of strangers in their lives, is central to the story that she tells and she has filled that environment with memorable characters struggling to make a life for themselves and their families under more and more difficult conditions.
In Memory of Central Park is a very fine novel but what makes it a special novel is the unusual love story that ties it all together. Noah, a psychotherapist and not a particularly happy man even on his best day, reluctantly admits to himself that he has fallen in love with his twin brother’s wife and, when he finally finds the courage to express his love, is surprised to find that she feels the same way about him. As the two struggle with their feelings of love and guilt, they come to realize that life in New York City is not at all what it seems to be and they join others willing to risk their lives in trying to expose the Liberty Party for the corrupt sham that it is. It is at this point that the novel shifts from science fiction into thriller mode and races toward an exciting ending.
Minet and her husband have built a world as bleakly terrifying as the one found in Orwell’s 1984 and have filled it with sympathetic characters trying to make the best of the only world they know. It is not a comforting vision, but it is one that the reader will long remember.
Rated at: 5.0