Have you ever wondered what it would be like to start over every four years? I don’t mean politically, I mean your entire life. Just a blank slate, all your wrong doings, cherished memories, ex lovers, wiped away so you can start fresh? Well if that sounds like a dandy way to live, you might want to check out our latest dark horse, Reset by Sarina Dahlan.
Reset takes place in the Four Cities, a post-apocalyptic utopia, designed and built by the enigmatic Planner. It is seemingly the only place humanity exists after the devastating Last War, in which the world destroyed itself. The people in the Four Cities live a peaceful life, without concern for material needs, and have all their worries taken from them. The price being that of their memories. Every four years they have to undergo the process of Tabula Rasa, and have them wiped. The Planner felt that the only way for humanity to attain peace was to consistently remove the past to avoid prejudicial buildup. The book follows a few characters as their lives get tangled up in the final months before the next Tabula Rasa. Metis, a concert pianist by day, and the mysterious Sandman by night, leads a small group of folk known as the Dreamers. They are consistently in search of the past, even though it is forbidden. Metis is searching for the next Sandman to take his place over the next four years, and happens upon Aris, a woman who is deeply embedded in his dreams. With only four months left in this life, will he be able to convince her that she must be the next Sandman?
Unfortunately, I have mostly negative feelings about Reset. I was sold on the premise, but the execution left me wanting. Before I get to the meat of my issues, I want to highlight some things that I really enjoyed about the book. It’s clear that Dahlan thought through the central idea and how people would end up living their lives in this new normal. The Four Cities, while not deeply explored, feel thought out and “planned.” There is a central and pervasive mythology about the history of the place, and it’s incredibly tangible while having a vague sense of dread attached to it. Dahlan explores these mixed feelings in small and incredibly interesting ways. A lot of these smaller ideas felt like they could easily be expanded upon through short stories, enriching the world of Reset in cool and thoughtful ways. The one that stuck out to me the most was the Memory Market, a place where discarded items from people’s past were laid out so people could wander through and see if anything sparks something within them. Unfortunately, these ideas were relegated to paragraphs or sentences, and didn’t add much to the specific story being told.
I will say, a lot of my issues with this book do stem from personal taste. The majority of the book is romantic in nature, and focuses very heavily on how one’s relationships would be affected by the Tabula Rasa. While I’m not against romance in my books, I have a hard time with unrequited love stories, and Reset is all about that. Metis is haunted by Aris, and can’t stop thinking about how to get her to understand who she is to him. His memories of her are vibrant and full of desire and passion, yet she does not remember him in any way. A friend of Aris’, Benja, is similarly plagued by his dreams of a man in a white hat, and can’t stop talking about him to Aris. Thane, a sort of secret police officer, is also an admirer of Aris after a date with her and is jealous of her closeness to Benja. Meanwhile, Aris is just a free floating woman who does what she wants, and does not care for romantic or sexual attachment of any kind. This love square/triangle (Benja also has feelings for Aris, but accepts that she sees him as a friend), is the central focus of the story and it became very tedious for me very fast.
I think it would have been easier to swallow had the characters been people to root for. I’m not one to shy away from some good romantic drama, but I just didn’t feel for any of the characters. Aris was the most relatable in that she wanted no part of everything, but she didn’t really seem to have a reason to not be attached. She didn’t have other passions or needs to fulfill; she just felt like someone who needed to be shown the error of her ways when it comes to love. Metis and Benja were tough to relate to. They were just at eleven the whole time, pining for their innately chosen lovers, every aspect of their life consumed by it. Unfortunately, a lot of the emotions that are explored are theirs, so it only caused me to sour through the rest of the book. Thane, someone who could have had some interesting development, felt like a wet rag. There was a chance to explore his competing desires of duty and jealousy, paired nicely with regret and anguish, but he’s just there, draped in the corner waiting to be washed with the rest of the rags.
I could go on and on, nitpicking my individual issues with the book, but it would just feel mean and petty. I just couldn’t get into it beyond those small moments of interest. Part of it may be that I had bigger expectations when it came to the exploration of memory, and the idea of loss in relation to it. I wanted more ambiguity, more questioning, more concern for the society that had been created. Dahlan has expressed some of those ideas in small doses, and placed them in the story in just the right spots to flare up interest and exploration, but fails to deliver beyond their immediate relation to the love square. I wanted to like this book, but it just wasn’t meant to be. If you’re into unrequited love in a time where memory is fleeting, you might find something special here, but there are plenty of other books out there for me to explore.
Rating: Reset – 5.0/10