A Better World
Atria Books (April 9, 2024)
Reviewed by Carson Buckingham
The world is falling to pieces and it’s looking like the Anthropocene Era may be coming to an end. Pestilence, famine, death, war, and chaos have arrived, and all the other things that go with a raveling world are almost inescapable.
A huge conglomerate, called Better World, has stepped in and created a series of settlements across the country for the elite—the supposedly best specimens of society—those worth preserving to rebuild the future. The settlement we examine here is called Plymouth Valley. There, untainted food, clean clothing, clean air and water, medical care, and everything in general is readily available. Everyone works, everything is provided, the Better World Corporation owns their cars and houses, and nobody gets paid.
Which makes it pretty hard to leave, if you decide you want to.
But leaving aside, it’s also next to impossible to move into Plymouth Valley. Concerned for her rapidly declining health and that of her husband and two children, Linda, a pediatrician, offers her medical skills to Plymouth Valley and they are all, eventually, admitted.
But remaining there could be a problem, and fitting in definitely is.
Add that to the weird holidays dedicated to a lab-created carnivorous bird, altars in all the houses, and whatever the populace is hiding behind those friendly smiles that never touch their eyes and things get curiouser and curiouser.
Langan has created an increasingly familiar-sounding America that is not just unnerving, but horrifying. It’s everything we’re all afraid of rolled into a sugary doughnut filled with putrescence.
I found it interesting that Better World Corporation portrays itself as the hero in all this, when they, as Billy Joel says, “started the fire” in the first place. So very typical.
So, after uncovering Plymouth Valley’s appalling secrets, what will Linda do about them? What can she do about them?
You will definitely want to read this book. Grab a copy as soon as it is available. Once you read it, you’ll be thinking about it for days afterward—it really stays with you.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough.
6 out of 5 stars!
“Sarah Langan never ceases to amaze: A Better World is terrifying, shocking, sinister . . . and yet heartfelt and often hilarious. Langan has created a United States of the future that feels darkly recognizable—a depository of our current fears about environment, government, health. Her bright, shiny, twisted little town of tomorrow, Plymouth Valley, is a dark, thrilling indictment on the choices we make today.” —Gillian Flynn
“A Better World is truly fantastic. A moving portrait of a woman trying to save her family in a poisoned world. Mordant wit, insightful social commentary, and so much heart, Sarah Langan has written a gloriously humane novel.”—Victor LaValle
“Suspenseful, scathing, simultaneously deeply disturbing and wildly funny. . . . A delicious skewering of the Anthropocene and our desperation for ‘beautification’ at whatever cost. I couldn’t put it down.”—Julia Fine, author of Maddalena and the Dark and The Upstairs House
“A chilling, heartbreaking exploration of our modern psyche. Sarah Langan has never been better or more insightful. There’s more than one way to sell your soul, and Langan knows them all.”—Christopher Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Road of Bones and The House of Last Resort
“Perfectly constructed social horror with emotional heft. A Rorschach test of all our modern fears anchored by the honest, human, heroic characters at the heart of it. A brilliant piece of writing.”—Alma Katsu, author of The Fervor