Michael Berg takes on a tough challenge here with the concept of a children’s institution set in the future, with a different legal context. I was hoping for a similar literary journey to the last offering to this concept – Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. However, Berg misses the opportunity by a country mile, leaving me nothing but bitterly disappointed.
The plot is held together reasonably well. Irene, our protagonist, is the eldest daughter of a pro-choice activist in a future where abortion is illegal. Rich Americans send their pregnant daughters to Europe; poor Americans are consigned to either illegal abortions or unwanted children. Irene and her younger sister, Rita, are definitely poor Americans. When their mother is arrested, Irene and Rita are taken into care at the Trench Center, a hub of abuse.
Michael Berg is not an author as such; he comes from a social work background in Florida. This is painfully evident throughout the book. Characterization is poor, fragile and inconsistent. There is no apparent motivation of Irene’s mother to be pro-choice in the face of such adversity, and the lack of dimension to her character means that the reader does not really care anyway. Various literary devices are attempted with anemic effect. One particularly painful example occurs when Rita writes a letter to Irene. The language she purports to write bears little relation to how any 12-year-old writes. The text generally lacks pace, even at key moments of erupting violence, leaving the narrative with a juvenile flavor. As for the attempts at irony… the less said about that, the better.
It is unclear what this book hopes to achieve. It perhaps is presenting itself as a sociological thriller. However, to be disturbed, the reader must tangibly feel and believe the evil that is presented. When Weslake, the program director at the Trench Center, lets her corporate image slip and yells orders for revocation of the children’s privilege points, it fails to be affecting. Berg’s language is insufficiently descriptive and, at risk of belaboring the point, pace does not change to communicate any sense of urgency or emergency.
Typical of this is the episode in which Irene’s roommate snaps out if meek victim-hood and strikes back. In the space of a split second, Berg tries to convince the reader that Kate goes through a whole chain of decisions, whereas she likely has been bottling the emotions up over a certain period of time. The tedium of such poor writing meant I was past caring by this point. I wasted little time thinking about it and plodded on regardless. The end of the book brought only relief that I could move onto reading something else.
Berg had a brilliant idea for a plot with Abandoned in the Maze. Unfortunately, one good idea does not a book make. I cannot possible imagine recommending to anyone that they should read this book.