Review: The Blinds by Adam Sternbergh

Here’s to the person you might have been, and to the person you have become. May they never meet in a dark alley.

Welcome to the town of Ceasura (a.k.a. “The Blinds”)—a forgotten spot in west Texas, home to criminals and innocents, all of whom have had the memories of what they did and what they know wiped. Here is where the undesirables are hidden, those who made the Faustian bargain to sell their memories to save their skins. The town is puttering along just fine with this group of criminals and innocents—though no one knows which is which—intermingling in relative peace and isolation until one of their own is murdered. With no one in or out, the killer must be among them. The murder also invites the outside world in—something that hasn’t happened in eight years. As the crime is investigated, the foundation upon which the town was built starts to crumble—after all, if everyone is a former criminal, it could be anybody and nobody’s safe.

The Cost
If you could chose to forget the worst things you did—the ways in which you hurt others—would you? While it may be better for society that some (most) of these people aren’t out and about committing crimes anymore, I really had to question this cost. In many cases, before the “technique” was refined, the removal of memory resulted in the removal of far more than just the memory of the crimes the town’s inhabitants committed or witnessed. Is it worth the cost of forgetting who you are in exchange for forgetting what you did? I suspect most of us would say “no,” but then most of my readers (…I assume) are not serial murders.

Nature vs. Nurture
When their crimes were removed from their memories, interestingly, so were many of the criminal proclivities—this is true for all but one person, though for reasons that become clear s/he was left with those proclivities for a reason. Towards the end of the book, as things in The Blinds start to unravel, you discover who some of the town’s occupants really are and what their crimes were. Many of the crimes are the sort where there was an internal motivation—a want, a need, a proclivity—that you wouldn’t think would be totally uprooted simply by removing the memories of the crimes. And yet, life in the Blinds has been, until very recently, pretty crime-free. Though not the main thrust of this book, this choice has interesting implications for the “Nature vs. Nurture” debate. If your proclivity towards a crime was removed with the memories, then wouldn’t it stand to reason that crime/criminal motivations are the result of Nurture—so that they can be uprooted? If they’re Nature, then they’re inborn and mere removal of memory wouldn’t remove the natural hardwiring of the brain. Tied then to the larger theme, you have implications for the value of human life—if you could remove criminal proclivity along with the memory of crime, then no life is beyond repair, no life is irredeemable, no matter the crime.

The Value of Human Life
It’s rare that a suspense book inspires deep philosophical debate and yet, here we are. In setting up Ceasura the way he did, Sternberg invites the reader to consider larger questions about the value of human life and the way it is measured. As the roots of The Blinds are exposed, the reader learns the forgotten/removed crimes of some of the town’s inhabitants—and they are exactly as bad and as heinous as they could be—there’s a child pornographer, a torturer for hire. Sternbergh deliberately chose crimes for which there is no sympathy. But here is the slippery slope—as I discovered who some of the occupants were, my bent was to show no mercy and not to mourn if bad things happened to these people. But if I don’t mind bad things happening to these people, where do we draw that line? Who decides who gets to die? Is any crime truly deserving of death? Does it change the evaluation if the person has no memory of the crime and has not done anything since?

I don’t want a philosophical debate, I just want a suspense novel
While I tend to overthink everything (as the previous paragraphs likely demonstrate), The Blinds is also an excellent book as a pure suspense novel. Because no one knows who they are, there are several mini revelations and twists in the book—some are more obvious than others, but all seemed to me to be fairly well done. The premise is certainly unique, the villain(s) interesting (though who the villain(s) are is really up for debate if almost everyone is a criminal….but I digress). The writing is tight, the characters believable with individual personalities, even with everyone being somewhat of a blank slate. The book was well-paced so I never felt like I had to push through at any point—from the beginning it was engaging. I would go so far as to say it’s my favorite suspense novel so far this year.

Who would you be?
One of the fun little details in the book is that everyone chooses a new name from two lists when they first arrive. One name from a classic Hollywood star (recognizable) and Vice Presidents (“What’s more forgettable than a vice president?”). This fun little detail invites the reader to think about what they would name themselves. Should anyone come looking for me in The Blinds, they can ask for Audrey Biden.

Published August 1, 2017 by Ecco (@eccobooks), an imprint of HarperCollins (@harpercollinsus)
Author: Adam Sternbergh
Date read: October 1, 2017
Rating: 3 3/4 stars

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