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Book Review: “You Feel It Just Below the Ribs” quietly intrigues

After finishing this novel, I could barely come up with words to describe it. "You Feel It Just Below the Ribs" from Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson is unlike any sci-fi novel I've read in ages.

Cranor and Matthewson's fictional autobiography recounts the life of Miriam during The Great Reckoning, a decades-long war and disaster that nearly wipes the entire human population. From being orphaned to a stint in prison, Miriam chronicles her isolating childhood and her work into emotional detachment that later changes the world, for better or for worse.

As society rebuilds, the new, global governing body forbids any relationships that might cause "tribal loyalties," including families, by using Miriam's research. Miriam's work transforms into a sinister program with disastrous consequences on humanity with every leap and failure in her career. As more and more revelations are made, she plans to destroy the program from the inside and undermine her life's work.

There's no doubt that Cranor and Matthewson have created a work like no other. The novel is structured like an autobiography with judgmental editor's footnotes scattered throughout. The book casts doubt on Miriam, her memories, and the editors to lure readers into reading between the lines and casting their own opinions on the truth. Miriam's unreliable narration doesn't carry its weight–even with the editor's notes, the suspense surrounding her story falls flat in comparison to her story.

Although the novel is imaginative and unlike any other in living memory, the novel's beginning doesn't line up with the rest of the story. Miriam's lonely childhood makes sense with her work. Still, the editor's notes reveal little and make for a confusing narration in the novel's first quarter.

Nevertheless, "You Feel It Just Below the Ribs" is written beautifully without the pomp and circumstance of most apocalyptic novels. Quietly fascinating and melancholy, the themes of grief and isolation align with what our reality is now with the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the book feels utterly genuine; there are moments where you almost believe the events of "You Feel It Just Below the Ribs" happened in real life.

Thought-provoking, deeply unsettling, and saddening, "You Feel It Just Below the Ribs" might be one of the most imaginative novels out there.

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