SIMPLY PUT, there aren't enough books like Jillian Weise's The Colony. With its casual rejection of genre lines, bracingly contemporary voice, and a premise that's both extended metaphor and compelling narrative in its own right, The Colony is a refreshingly idiosyncratic debut.
Weise's novel is set in a near future where recognizable science—genetic research, waterbed technology—has advanced just a few jots beyond what it's capable of now. The titular colony is a research facility, a sort of summer camp for the genetically disadvantaged. Five campers are chosen to live at the colony, where they turn over their DNA—for research purposes, natch—in exchange for room, board, and access to cutting-edge gene therapies. Weise's protagonist, Anne, is a 25-year-old teacher born with a rare, usually fatal condition that's left her with only one leg. Other colonists include a woman born with the "obesity gene" who starves herself into rail thinness, petrified the gene will one day express itself, and an attractive young man, Nick, with the "suicide gene," whose imminent death is counted as a given. All have been promised that their genetic deficiencies will be repaired; in the meantime, in their isolated Long Island colony, they get up to the sorts of trouble common to summer campers everywhere: namely, sex and substance abuse.
Brash, chain-smoking, and totally likeable, Anne spends her time fretting about why she needs a new leg when her prosthetic does just fine, cheating on her boyfriend with Nick, and discussing the true meaning of happiness with Charles Darwin (who pops up now and then to offer Anne advice, making no apologies for his official status as "deceased").
While the narrative can be oblique, relying on supplementary documents both fictionalized and real (there's a bibliography with plenty of real-life references), the book's central thesis couldn't be more clear. "If you don't say something, if no one speaks on your behalf, if the people who speak for you say things like 'Prevail through Knowledge' while they pump you full of stem cells... then you better watch it, because those same people are suddenly pinning a gold star to your pea coat." Given our culture of body enhancement, it's no stretch to imagine the pursuit of perfectability taken to a genetic level. In Weise's hands, such a future is just appealing enough to be dangerous.