When I started reading this novel yesterday, I was skeptical that it would be as abjectly terrible as Handbook for Mortals. Like, I didn’t doubt that it would suck, and handle its racial elements horrendously, but I thought it would probably be a paint-by-the-numbers forbidden love thing, and that would ultimately cobble together some kind of social-jusice-y “racism is bad!” moral. Thankfully, I was wrong. This one is so much worse.
While Handbook for Mortals is amateurishly written and certainly has a lot of problematic elements, there’s an unselfconscious earnestness about it that is, in retrospect, almost endearing. It’s a beautiful mess in the way that The Room or Birdemic: Shock and Terror both are.
Save the Pearls is different. While its prose is marginally better, it also tries to be Important. Where Lani Sarem quotes the Dixie Chicks and Tumblr poets, Victoria Foyt quotes Albert Einstein and Emily Dickinson. Where Lani Sarem steers clear of anything weighty or topical, Victoria Foyt has a lot of serious stuff to say about racism, Science, Nature, Love, and even communism (!). All of it is incorrect. Read on to find how just how bad it is!
As in Handbook for Mortals, Save the Pearls starts out with an epigraph. Unlike Handbook for Mortals, however, there is but a single quote, attributed to the correct author. Point: Save the Pearls
Come slowly – Eden!
lips unused to thee,
Bashful, sip thy jasmines,
As the fainting bee,
Reaching late his flower,
Round her chamber hums,
Counts his nectars –enters,
And is lost in balms!
— Emily Dickinson
Remember how I said that Victoria Foyt has a lot to say about Very Important Issues? She has even more to say about feeling sexual desire for anthropomorphic animals. It’s a mess.
Anyway, let’s begin for real!
Our story opens with our protagonist, Eden (hey that’s like the epigraph!) hearing footsteps approaching, and closing her holographic display.
In a flash, the holographic images that appeared in front of her—a blond girl playing on a sunlit beach—disappeared.
Even though this situation may be evocative of alt-tabbing away from a porn window while at work, I’m pretty sure Eden’s 100% straight. So she was just kinda marveling at the blonde chick for. . .reasons? It’s not really explained in a satisfying way, and it’s only here to show us how ~transgressive~ it is to even look at photographs of white people.
The footsteps she heard belong to her coworker, “a plump, dark-skinned lab assistant” named Peach. Eden breifly thinks that Peach isn’t “as cruel as the rest of them,” (and by “them”, Eden means black people). But even so:
Eden’s blank emotional mask slammed into place. Never let them see how you feel.
So Peach asks Eden if she’s “monitored the subjects’ medications,” and Eden says that she has. She tells us that she can’t afford to make mistakes.
But Peach asks why the report isn’t “on schedule”. These are sciencey things people say in Science land, right? Anyway, apparently this very generic exchange is abnormally civil. And this is when we learn that Eden is in blackface:
Had Peach forgotten that Eden’s skin only had a dark coating? Maybe she was passing, after all. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I’m not going to harp on the blackface too much, because in this situation it’s obviously meant as an analogue for skin-bleaching, or hair-straightening. Like, I’m side-eyeing the decision, but it’s there to show that blackness is the standard of beauty in this world. Besides, the race stuff gets so much worse than incidental blackface.
Eden reminds Peach that she’s not allowed to use “Priority One channels” (which I guess is because she’s white? It’s never explicitly stated, or explained any further). Peach gets embarrassed, and asks why Eden hasn’t given the report to their supervisor, Ashina.
Eden tells us that she has already given the report to Ashina. Also, it turns out that Peach is 10 minutes late coming back from her lunch break, but alas it is Against The Rules for a white person point this out to a “Coal.” Meaning a black person. Because this world really hates white people. It sounds impossible, but it’s more likely than you think! (note: that was a joke). But Eden is a rebel, and says something about being on her lunch break.
While Peach takes some time to work out what Eden’s point is (it took me awhile too, TBH), some holographic ducks fly around a holographic pond. Because “extinct birds and animals are her specialty,” Eden takes a moment to think about how their scientific name is Anas platyrhynchos, and I think what we’re meant to take away from this is that Eden is a smarty pants who knows smarty pants stuff. Finally, Peach realizes that Eden was sassing her, and walks away.
A voice in Eden’s head, one she had been programmed to receive from the World-Band since birth, issued a gentle warning: Your heartbeat is elevated. Experience something pleasant, my dear.
Yep. Everyone in this world has a biosensor/HUD/perma-internet thing. I think they’re maybe an analog for smart phones?
So Eden says to herself that she is “a stone in a cool, dark cave,” and her world-band projects the image around her (how something projects an image of a dark cave is anyone’s guess). And finally, when she gets all good and relaxed,
In that quiet, treasured space, she allowed herself one small but true thought: I hate them.
I’m going to say something a little bit controversial and say that I don’t think that writing a novel where black people oppress white people is necessarily a bad idea. I think it’s extremely difficult to pull off, but it’s possible to do well (see: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman). I also think that it’s OK for a character to have feelings of antipathy towards their oppressor in any situation, but wow, the image of a white person thinking about how much they hate black people is loaded. I’m not sure how I would pull it off, but then, I’d never write a novel where it would be justified, so there’s that. Anyway.
And yet, if only Eden were one of them, she’d be beautiful and safe.
Again, sentiments that kind of make sense, if we take it for granted that white people are super mistreated in this world, but still, the only thing I can think of is Kylie Jenner, who is white:
In fact, I nominate Kylie Jenner to play Eden in the nonexistent movie.
OK, so, anyway, we get some exposition.
But, at age seventeen, she was already middle-aged. She’d be lucky to make it to her forties. Despite her rat-like existence in the Combs, a network of dark, shadowy underground tunnels, where civilization burrowed to avoid the deadly levels of solar radiation, Eden undoubtedly would die from The Heat, just like her mother had.
Jesus Christ: humans needed to go underground to avoid getting killed by solar radiation? And it’s so powerful that you’re still going to die by age 40, even though you’re hidden under several feet of rock at any given time? Holy shit.
We learn that Eden has never been above ground, since she’s so pale. This launches us into a flashback to this one time her mother waking her up early when she was a kid, and they took a little field trip up to a special “viewing window” out of which people could look out at the devastation. Her mother pointed at a conveniently placed pile of bones, and tells Eden that they must be careful.
The message had been clear: this is where you’ll end up if you don’t obey. All Pearls, the racist term for whites, feared the light.
- If the solar radiation is strong enough to kill you even when you’ve never stepped a foot outside, I guarantee that all the melanin in the world isn’t going to protect you from cooking. Unless being cast out into the light is a white-person-exclusive punishment?
- “Pearl” is quite possibly the nicest-sounding racial slur I’ve ever heard.
Eden thinks that if it weren’t for her
iphone Life-Band (wait, is that different from the world-band? I’m confused), she “wouldn’t last a night”. This makes it sound like maybe it’s helping protect her from radiation, but no, she thinks about how its fuction as a holodeck lets her see whatever she wants. So I guess she just means she’d kill herself without it.
Thank Earth, the Uni-Gov provided her with a Life-Band. They cared about her.
But maybe not, since, you know, it’s presumably signed off on all that weird racial-caste stuff. Incidentally, this is about all we ever learn about the political system in this world.
Now that Eden has taken her self-pity trip, she goes back to looking at the white bikini girl from earlier.
A familiar rush of pleasure, mixed with fear, coursed through her at the sight of the white girl. Images of Pearls in natural coloring were forbidden. If they caught Eden looking, she would be punished.
WHY? THIS MAKES NO SENSE! Like, why hasn’t the government censored the images in the first place? Somehow this world doesn’t strike me as having a very free and open Internet. But this continues:
Nearby, other whites lounged on thick towels or cabana chairs, or played cards at tables out in broad daylight! Sunshine glittered on a blue ocean that stretched across the semi-circular cove like a big happy smile. Children, lots of them, even siblings, chased after the rushing ocean waves, back and forth. Their shrill screams floated on the air—but these were screams of joy, not terror.
#MakeAmericaWhiteAgain is really all I’m getting from this. Like, I know that this book was written way back in Obama’s first term, but holy shit, it’s aged poorly. This literally reads like white supremacist propaganda. I guess in this novel, global warming really was a conspiracy by the (((global elite))) to destroy the white race. Don’t worry, that was also a joke. There are no Jewish characters in this entire novel (that we know of), so we managed to avoid that potential hotbed of unfortunate implications.
Eden can hardly believe that the bikini lady was once considered beautiful. She thinks about how that would mean that she could have been considered beautiful once, if only she’d been born earlier in history. The thought blows her mind And again, this is really awkwardly handled, but it’s not outright horrible (although, once again, the image of a blonde-haired-blue-eyed girl longing for the days when that was the standard of beauty is really uncomfortable in the way that Southerners nostalgia-ing about the Antebellum period is).
Also, does this whole fixation on beauty feel like a misunderstanding of racism? As a white person, I don’t know what it’s like, but I feel like it goes beyond (and frequently bypasses altogether) “I’m so hideous no one could ever love me”. Like, oppressed have always been eroticized/exotocized/objectified? It’s the whole being considered subhuman thing that I think gets to people more than not meeting the standard of beauty, although I’m sure that plays a role too. I don’t know. It’s not my place to say how it feels to be oppressed. But neither is it Victoria Foyt’s.
That bitch Ashina was now fifteen minutes late and Eden wanted to take her break. She glanced around the lab, hoping for a sign of the haughty Coal.
Fun fact: pretty much every time Ashina is brought up, Eden refers to her as “that bitch”. Doesn’t Eden sound like a pleasant person? I mean, even if she is being oppressed, it gets excessive.
Eden looks over to the operating theater which apparently she can see into from her seat in the lab. And there, she sees her father.
He is a scientist. Like, picture a Scientist. The most stereotypical one you can imagine. Now double it. That is Eden’s father. Because he is a Scientist, his hologram display is showing a bunch of complicated equations. She describes him as “a brain on a stick” (it’s a figure of speech).
Wait, you might be thinking, If there’s so much racism in this world, why is Eden’s dad allowed to be in control of the lab? Well, you see, it’s because of his high IQ, of course! The only reason Eden is allowed to work there is because of him.
Even in super-anti-white-people land, white men are the smartest. I guess it’s just a law of nature or something. Because I am a charitable person, I am guessing that Foyt has zero knowledge about how much white supremacists love talking about IQ, but let’s just say that all of this is pinging my Fashdar.
We learn that the lab they work in is something called Resources for Environmental Adaptation (REA), and that tomorrow night, her dad will do a huge experiment! Eden looks around at all the black people working on holographic DNA models (or something), and thinks about all the pressure her dad is under, and she thinks about how she doesn’t get to spend enough time with him.
I guess he feels her looking at him, because he turns to look back at her. When he does, his white skin shows, and she gets upset:
For Earth’s sake, how was she supposed to pass when her father didn’t maintain standards?
I really don’t think Foyt knows what passing refers to. Literally everyone in her workplace knows she’s white. Her dad not wearing makeup isn’t keeping her from “passing.”
Eden thinks more about how she’s wearing tons of makeup (called “Midnight Luster”), and even though it dries out her hair, it’s totally worth it. Because:
She had to cover her white skin or risk antagonizing the Coals.
So if I had to guess, I would say that this is like a Zimbabwe situation where white people had power for so long that black people violently overthrew the power structure, or something. Right? Like, that’s the only way you could justify the extreme hatred of white people at this point (spoiler, no, that is not the case. Stay tuned to find out the real explanation!).
Ashina (who is described as being Eden’s “nemisis”) finally returns, and Eden thinks about how she is “voluptuous” and has “raisin-colored skin”. Because how else would you describe a person of color’s skin if not by comparing it to food?
Finally, we get to learn why black people are in charge:
The higher amounts of melanin in their skin protected them from the sun’s radiation. Since their numbers hadn’t been decimated in The Great Meltdown, as the other races’ had, they now ruled the planet.
But, OK, why is there such intense racism? My suspicion that Foyt knows literally nothing about racism except that it somehow exists conceptually is growing.
So then Eden thinks more about how much easier life is for a black person, and how Ashina probably has plenty of men “offering to pick up her mate option”. Eden, alas, is very genetically undesireable, and her “mate-rate” is only 15%.
Only Cottons, the derogatory word for albinos, were lower, and they were extinct.
Why is Eden thinking about everyone in derogatorty terms?
Eden’s abysmal “mate-rate” means that she’s basically doomed:
Time was running out. If Eden wasn’t mated in six months when she turned eighteen—the deadline for girls—she’d be cut off from Basic Resources, and left outside to die. But who would want a lowly Pearl like her?
- The use of the word “mated” makes my skin crawl.
- This is the first indication that society is at all sexist.
- If this society is so anti-white, why do they want white people to reproduce at all? Is it a biodiversity thing? But then, why are white people so stigmatized? None of this makes sense! I am 90% sure Victoria Foyt just wanted to write a book about Scary Black People preying on Poor Innocent White Girl. If you don’t think it’s a fetish thing, just wait until the plot gets going.
So Eden asks Ashina if she can take her lunch break now. But uh-oh! Ashina says that Eden has failed to send her the report! Eden swears that she did send it, and I think we’re supposed to believe her. Ashina proceeds to chew Eden out, and talks about how genetically inferior white people are, and when Eden protests that she definitely sent the report over, Ashina gets physical! Because racism totally manifests as physically attacking your coworkers!
But Eden isn’t going to take it:
Eden flinched. One of them was touching her. White-hot light exploded in her head. Before she knew it, she blurted out an incendiary racial slur.
“Get your hands off of me, you damn Coal!”
Also, Coal is a racial slur too! Eden literally thinks in racial slurs. She is awful.
And I know that this has been pointed out many times, but why are white people “pearls” and black people “coals?” Like, if you were an anthropologist looking at nomenclature, would you think that the “pearls” or the “coals” were the second-class citizens?
I hate this book so much. Handbook for Mortals ain’t got nothin’ on it.
In response to Eden’s outburst, Ashina slaps her. Then Ashina lunges toward Eden, but Eden dodges, and Ashina falls down. Ashina shouts that Eden pushed her, and then THE HORDES descend on her.
Even those whom she thought tolerated her presence hurled racial epithets.
The angry mob lurched towards Eden, just like in her nightmares. The Coals were going to kill her. They would drag her outside and leave her to cook in the sun.
And that’s how Chapter One ends. I think it might be meant to evoke a lynching, which is just, ugh, I don’t know.