Skin is an amazing thing, it protects us from diseases and bacteria, but in Naomi Booth’s ‘Sealed’ we learn that our skin might just be willing to kill us to do its job. It is a terrifying concept that Booth reveals in as she describes how the skin stitches over a mouth and nose, sealing its human from the outside world, suffocating them in the process. ‘Sealed’ is a story of isolation, disease, mistrust, and pregnancy.
We are shown this world through the narrator, Alice. Pregnant with her boyfriend Pete’s child, they run to an isolated house on the outskirts of the small town Lakoomba, which I believe is in Australia. Their hope is to be far enough away from the pollution of the city to escape the disease. Booth paints a picture of a hick town that doesn’t trust the two big city kids, or the State Department that wants to move the townspeople to special “camps” used to protect them from “wildfires”. No one seems to want to talk about cutis, the disease sealing people off, leaving Alice to question anyone that might have extra skin near an eye or ear. We feel her frustration whenever Pete or a nurse tell her not to worry or that they are safe. We are alone with Alice, sealed away from the world and any help.
Booth has this amazing way to paint scenes and make you feel Alice’s frustration. Near the beginning of the book we watch as a bird struggles on the ground, kicking dirt up one moment and standing as still as a statue the next. Eventually the bird makes it over to Alice for us to see that its eyes have been sealed over. It’s heartbreaking when it tries to fly away. Then there is Alice’s boyfriend, and his two new friends, Paulie and Mara. Booth makes them real hard to like, in fact, I believe I screamed at them a couple of times. We are seeing them through the eyes of Alice, so we feel how she feels about them, which is that they are terrible people. There is a redemption of sorts near the end, which I won’t spoil, but through the majority of the book you will spend a lot of time hating them. Kudos to Booth for making me feel that way about those characters.
Which leads to how Booth takes us into the gritty details of pregnancy. As a man, I have no idea what it is like to be pregnant, to feel contractions, to feel something growing inside of me, to feel it trying to burst out of me. But, Booth does an amazing job of showing me in excruciating detail what that process is like. I felt every stretch of skin, every push on bone or lung, every stare as someone judged Alice for moving to that town. It sounds absolutely horrifying and I want to apologize to every woman that has gone through it.
The theme of being sealed permeates through out the book, trapping you within the pages. The house and town they moved to has sealed them away from the outside world, there isn’t a phone or cell service anywhere. Alice is sealed from the truth of what is happening, as are we. We don’t know why people are being sealed in their own bodies. Alice has a theory that our bodies are trying to keep us safe from pollution. Yet, maybe not? Alice is sealed away from loving Pete, only being with him because of the baby, and she seals Pete away by keeping him at a distance, never letting him inside. We get to watch as this isolation tears through Alice’s life.
Some of the ideas that Booth posits I find interesting. The world is fighting back from the terrible things we have done to it. The rich can pay to have the skin removed, the poor have to suffer and die. Then there are the camps rounding people up, which comes off as the State Department not wanting to deal with rural towns or anyone that they deem unfit. It’s frightening to think about. We also have the concept of the media hiding information after it seems like no one is interested in the news of the disease. Booth has Alice keeping a blog to catalog the spread of cutis, believing someone will want to know about it in the future. This all paints a horrible picture of what might happen if an unstoppable catastrophe hits.
I know it sounds like I’m gushing, but I did find somethings I didn’t like. The book ends a bit abruptly. We just get into a pretty intense scene and it’s over. I wish there could have been a bit more. It also gets a bit tiring to have no one believing Alice, eventually someone would have to think something is going on. Finally, I didn’t really buy Alice wanting to stay with Pete just because of the baby. We get enough of a backstory to see how strong she is, but it feels a little out of character for her to stay with him. These aren’t terrible things to find wrong with ‘Sealed’, just some things that bothered me.
Overall, it’s a great and terrifying story of something you can’t stop. There are tons of gory descriptions for the gore fans, but it’s not so over the top that you feel dirty after. And there is enough of a heart and brain to the story that it’ll feed those looking for something with substance. Finally, it gives you a view of Australia that you might not have known existed. Oh, and there are spiders, because, it’s Australia.
Naomi Booth was born and raised in West Yorkshire and is now based inYork, where she lectures in Creative Writing and Literature at York St John University.
Sealed was published by Dead Ink Books – if you would like to learn more about Dead Ink click here…
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Review by Matthew Brandenburg
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