Alex DiFrancesco, All City, Seven Stories Press, 2019.
Audiobook available on Kobo.
All City is a near future apocalypse/post-apocalyptic (climate) novel told from different points of view. It deals with gender, class, race and mental health issues, and, to put it bluntly, I loved it.
Superstorm Bernice is coming to New-York. To Makayla, it means making sure her grand-mother is safe and then finding refuge at her friend's Jaden for a long and dangerous night. To Jesse and their anarchists friends, it means surviving using their old tricks. To Evann, it means making sure her precious apartment is safe before moving in-state to her father's property. In the wake of disaster, all of these characters will have their lives changed forever.
In the meantime, a street artist paints on New-York's ravaged walls.
All City relies on three main points of view: Makayla, Jesse and Evann. It is this variety of points of view that makes the novel such a success. Each throws into sharp relief what the other is living. Evann's point of view, particularly, is the bright, glittering point in the middle of a too realistic horror. As a rich white young woman who thinks herself liberal, her thoughts and her situation makes what Makayla, Jaden, Jesse and the others are living through even more striking.
A novel with various points of view is difficult to read through if you don't enjoy the characters. But I was touched differently by each of them: Makayla who goes through PTSD and tries to assume leadership, Jesse who worries about their friend Lux, the drugs they need and at the same time shrugs off so many things, and Evann who I loved despising.
DiFrancesco managed wonderfully to make them all come alive and give them each a voice, a reality. They have chosen to spend more time with some points of view than others, which can throw a reader off in the beginning, but in the end, it makes perfect sense.
The gallery of secondary characters is varied and wonderfully written as well: Makayla's grandmother, Alejandro the traumatised boy, Jesse's companions, Jaden... They all come to life.
The story itself hits home painfully, even when one isn't American. It's all too easy to find what DiFrancesco describes: the most precarious workers are those in the most danger, and they are scorned and abused by the powerful who will be the ones rebuilding a world a world that fits them more than it fits anyone else.
The commune built by Jaden and Makayla emerges naturally and without much ideological thought. DiFrancesco manages to convey a passionate and resonating political message with a remarkable subtlety, particularly when you reach the ending and they blur the lines a little more.
The elusive figure of the street artist and Evann's fascination for art, in particular for Basquiat, provides the canvas/wall on which these lives are painted. It engages in a fascinating conversation about street art and capitalism, about poverty and art, about art as an ideological tool or not recognised as such but only as monetary value.
DiFrancesco certainly moves their story in the path of Banksy's ideology, but they manage to avoid the trappings of naivety or of too much despair.
Being very sensitive to colours and lights, I've regretted that a novel that uses the beauty and importance of art so much, didn't use colours and lights in as striking a way as I had wished. Nonetheless, this is my only niggle with All City.
All City isn't the clifi novel you'll read for its hard science. It is the clifi novel you'll read for its characters, for its lucid political snapshot of our era and for the brilliance of its story interwoven through the different points of view. DiFrancesco is most certainly a writer I'll follow in the future.
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All reviews are spoiler free unless explicitly stated otherwise.
I only review stories I have liked even if my opinion may be nuanced. It doesn't apply for the "Novels published before 1978" series of blog posts.
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