amor deliria nervosa
It’s what Romeo and Juliet had—that infectious disease that often hits first during the teens and causes people to do crazy things to be with someone. Not sleep, not eat, run away—the list is endless.
But amor deliria is not a problem in the future United States. Everyone is scheduled for the cure, a procedure performed on the eighteenth birthday. If someone is infected before eighteen, s/he will have an early surgery (with possible tragic consequences) and will be kept guarded until the illness is cured. Shakespeare’s drama of young lovers is preserved in schools, but only as a cautionary tale—see what can happen to you if you are infected with amor deliria?
So what does a society without love look like? Oliver does a good job at showing how folks can be rational and do the right thing—take care of relatives, get dinner on the table, go to work—and be immersed in utter meaninglessness. The cure doesn’t just remove romantic love, but rather all love. Parents don’t have any fun with their kids, but they don’t abuse them either. So is this a good way to go? Lena’s mom had the cure performed on her three times, the last without anesthesia. Three times it didn’t work. She commits suicide, so she is evidence of the deeply abnormal nature of love, and, at first, Lena is looking forward to the cure, to being normal, and hoping not to end up like her mom.
But then Lena meets Alex. The two are infected pretty quickly. They hide out from the Regulators and plot. Alex is an ‘invalid,’ one of the uncured. He has connections to the Wilds, the unregulated wilderness outside of society’s control. Can the two escape Portland (Maine) and be together?
A critical look at this novel makes me wonder how any society could invest so much money and energy into making sure no one falls in love. There are impossible numbers of Regulators, border patrols and more—to be honest, it edges toward ludicrous. But when we look at this as just a fun read (great for summer!) and suspend disbelief, it’s a wonderful ride. There are nice bits of irony thrown in (July 4th is no longer Independence Day, but a celebration of the sealing of the borders). And love really does appear to be a disease. The stricken teens are restless, run high fevers, are irrational.
The love between Lena and Alex is one of the best things about the book. Alex is (a bit too) perfect, and any girl would be charmed by him. The couple is very sweet; you have to root for them. The end of this book is a white-knuckler. So enjoy it, bite all your nails off as you get to those last few pages, and then happily await the second book in the trilogy.