Review © 2007 Dru Pagliassotti
The rain fell in a steady torrent for five days. When it stopped Harold abandoned his chair on the porch and retreated to the privacy of his bedroom. Robin spent more time in the sea than on land. Jesse stopped caring for the House. Sand gathered on the hardwood floors, and all but three of the household candles burned down to nothing. The fresh apples Isabella had carried from the village rotted on the kitchen table. Robin and Harold ate almost nothing, and Jesse's taste for the tangy fruit had vanished. (— Keeper's Child, pp. 55-56)
T.S. Eliot's most famous stanza may be the one that ends The Hollow Men:
This is the way the world ends
The world in Keeper's Child is ending on Eliot's whimper: humanity is tired, melancholy, and defeated. When the cruiser Sacremento went down in 2008 bearing a load of genetic material, the spillage poisoned the 631 migrants hired to clean up the mess. The results weren't immediately obvious, but two generations later, the grandchildren of those migrants began to die as adults of a degenerative disease, and the ocean and land began to sicken. Bioengineer George Bruster tried to develop a counterbacteria that would stop the spread of the disease in the ocean, but it didn't work fast enough, and it began to warm the ocean as it worked.
Now, eighty years later, civilization has retreated to a few enclaves where those who've inherited the disease — the Desgastas — are given an identifying Mark and allowed to live in the city or are left outside city walls, unMarked, to huddle in crude camps or hospice-like Houses. Plants and animals are mutating and becoming toxic, and Jesse, the man who developed the Mark, has returned home to the House where his brother Harold, the keeper, is dying. When he finally leaves, he takes quiet, infected Robin with him.
Keeper's Child is less about Robin than about Jesse and the decline of a poisoned world. Jesse has discovered that the disease is mutating in humans, turning some of them into mad, feral creatures, afflicting the Desgastas at increasingly younger ages, and, finally, infecting the "clean" cityborn. Both he and Robin are trapped by the situation, Robin knowing that she carries the disease and relucantly accepted into the Desgastas society, Jesse as of yet uninfected and considered a pariah by cityborn and Desgastas both.
The tone of the novel is unrelentingly melancholy; an understated description of the fear and despair that overtakes the city as it becomes clear that nobody is safe anymore. Neither Robin nor Jesse have any optimism about the future; they are simply doing what they can to survive. The narrative style is one of quiet observation, with the story's moments of action and tension subordinated to its longer passages about struggle and death. Even when one small, bittersweet hope of survival presents itself, it comes veiled in pain and death.
Keeper's Child is a lyrical novel, a dirge for a society that didn't consider how its science might react with the world's ecosystem. But it doesn't preach or present its readers with an action-packed plot that pits intrepid survivors against postapocalyptic monsters; it simply unfolds description after description of humanity's gradual decline in a mutating world. Readers who find Michael Crichton's impassioned warnings about science's missteps to be too much will appreciate the more subdued and human-centered approach that Leslie Davis takes in Keeper's Child.