The city that reeks

New novel imagines even more dystopian future for the city

January 11, 2014

If you think present-day Baltimore has problems, travel a few centuries into the future and check out B-Mor, author Chang-Rae Lee's even more dystopian imagining of our city.

In Lee's new novel, "On Such a Full Sea," the city's current crop of residents have long since died out or moved on, leaving blocks of vacant homes with murals of sky painted on boarded-up windows.

Immigrants from "New China" then settled the city, renaming North Milton Avenue "Longevity Way," revitalizing blocks of vacant rowhouses, clearing the "huge city cemetery," planting "grow beds" and constructing massive fish tanks.

While B-Mor's residents amuse themselves in subterranean shopping malls filled with mood-elevating scents and music, they avoid the "open counties."

It seems that in Lee's version of the future, Baltimore and Howard and Anne Arundel counties become terrifying places where "the power is thready, constantly cycling on and off; housing is rudimentary, with shantytowns the rule; water is plentiful only during the wet seasons."

And then there's the sewers. Those in the counties date from "nearly two hundred years before our people arrived from New China, truly ancient times, such that after there's a heavy rain and the wind blows from the southwest, you can pick up from our very block the sharp rot stink of human settlement."

Sounds like something to look forward to.

Julie Scharper

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