The Transition: A Novel (Hardcover)

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The following review is from Book Reporter and written by Norah Piehl:

It’s hard out there for a young couple. Karl --- who (sort of) supports himself by writing online product reviews and ghost-writing term papers for university students --- and his wife Genevieve, a teacher, have most of the middle-class creature comforts. They go on holidays, buy new clothes, and eat out at restaurants. But unbeknownst to Genevieve, this comfortable lifestyle comes at a price. Karl, in reality, has been supporting their family only by moving his debt from one high-interest credit card to another, and eventually by participating (perhaps unknowingly) in an illegal online scam that lands him on the wrong side of the law.
His choice? To go to jail or to sign up for The Transition, a program of rehabilitation in which young couples (Genevieve has to participate, too) are paired with experienced mentors and given a rigorous program of instruction in career development, money management, education, nutrition and self-awareness. At the end of the six-month program (during which the couple’s wages are deposited in a savings account that will allow them to save up for a down payment on a house), they’ll be financially independent, ready to embark on some new business venture, and happier than they’ve ever been. At least that’s what Karl and Genevieve are promised during the inspirational session that kicks off the program.
Karl is skeptical of The Transition from the beginning, but Genevieve seems genuinely eager for a fresh start. Their mentors --- Transition alums and experienced leaders Stu and Janna --- are charismatic and seem eager to help their new protégés achieve success. But Karl bristles under the constant vigilance and lack of transparency, not to mention the feeling that he’s always being monitored and that his time is no longer even remotely his own. When The Transition seems to be driving a wedge between him and Genevieve, Karl begins to rebel --- with drastic consequences that, he soon discovers, may have been the point all along. At times, readers may grow impatient with waiting to figure out (or be told) exactly what is happening to Karl and why. But this frustration in many ways echoes Karl’s own experience within The Transition. And when the truth comes out, it is chilling indeed.
The Transition is a dystopian novel, set in a near future (virtually all the cars are self-driving, for instance) that still bears a great deal of resemblance to our present. Fundamentally, then, it’s a satire --- the kind of novel whose premise might seem absurd at the outset but eventually feels uncomfortably plausible. Author Luke Kennard takes some hot-button social and economic issues (the millennial fondness for frivolous items like avocado toast, for example, or the double-edged sword of the gig economy) and blends them together with a more personal examination of what The Transition does to this particular couple’s relationship.
Karl and Genevieve’s dynamic is complicated by Genevieve’s bipolar disorder and Karl’s perpetual desire to protect her and care for her, blended with her desire to be independent and his parallel fears that The Transition will prompt a relapse that could endanger her newfound status in the program, if not her life.


I’m probably not the only one who will find certain parts of The Transition cut awfully close to the bone.  Much of this sharp satire seems all too real.  In Luke Kennard's (no, not the Pistons player) debut novel, the majority of folks barely live pay check to pay check and a savings account is reserved for a “shrinking caste who already owned several houses.”  Unfortunately, our protagonists, Karl and Genevieve, are not part of this elite caste and have run afoul of their creditors.  They are given two options: jail, or sign up for a new program ominously called "The Transition."  They don't choose jail.  "The Transition" feels very much like an organization dreamt up by Google, Apple, or some other current cooperate overlord.  While on the surface the program seems well intentioned, Karl quickly suspects an ulterior motive and is very dubious of their assigned mentors.  As they progress through their program Karl increasingly feels he is being scapegoated for his and Genevieve's financial woes.  As Karl tries to win back Genevieve’s confidence in him he finds his mentors might not be the supportive counselors they insist they are.   This book is perfect for folks who love shows like “Black Mirror.”  Or if you are just naturally suspicious of technoutopianism (yes that is a word), like me, then you’ll enjoy this romp very much.

— From Matt


“The sort of book that cuts you off from your family and has you walking blindly through seven lanes of traffic with your face pressed obliviously to the page.” —James Marriott, The Times (London)

Do you or your partner spend more than you earn? Have your credit card debts evolved into collection letters? Has either of you received a court summons? Has either of you considered turning to a life of a crime? You are not alone. We know. We can help.

Welcome to the Transition.

While taking part in the Transition, you and your partner will spend six months living under the supervision of your mentors, two successful adults of a slightly older generation. Freed from your financial responsibilities, you will be coached through the key areas of the scheme—Employment, Nutrition, Responsibility, Relationship, Finances, and Self-respect—until you are ready to be reintegrated into adult society.

At the end of your six months, who knows what discoveries you’ll have made about yourself? The “friends” you no longer need. The talents you’ll have found time to nurture. The business you might have kick-started. Who knows where you’ll be?

About the Author

Luke Kennard is the author of several collections of poetry. He won an Eric Gregory Award in 2005 and was short-listed for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2007 and for the International Dylan Thomas Prize in 2017. He lectures at the University of Birmingham and was selected by the Poetry Book Society as one of the Next Generation Poets in 2014. The Transition is his first novel.

Praise For…

The Transition brings to mind the symbol-rich fictional worlds of the late poet-novelist Denis Johnson . . . Kennard, like so many poets reinvigorating the expectations of what a work of prose can do, makes a case for resisting narrative conventions as a way to infuse a book with a feverish vitality.”
—Idra Novey, Los Angeles Times

“[A] sharp, witty debut . . . Enlivened by crisp dialogue and Wildean epigrams (“That’s the problem with self-respect . . . you start to feel offended when someone insults you”), the novel splendidly hums along. Kennard calibrates satire and sentiment, puncturing glib diagnoses of a generation’s shortcomings while producing a nuanced portrait of a marriage.”
Publishers Weekly [boxed, starred review]

“Just like the best dystopian fiction—think Animal Farm or Fahrenheit 451—The Transition encourages us to heighten our awareness of and resist forces that push us to act against our best interests.”
—Pierce Smith, Chicago Review of Books

"A scathing romp about late capitalism's social ills."
Kirkus Reviews

"[A] biting debut . . . An intelligent satire about our collective future . . . Kennard's gift for dialogue and fluent imagination are surely signs of promising things to come."
Poornima Apte, Booklist

“Extremely smart and extremely funny, Luke Kennard’s first novel is a brilliant dismantling of our corporatized century. It also features one of the most endearingly hapless heroes since Lucky Jim. In a world where everything real has been outsourced if it can’t be demolished, a book like The Transition is not just a ray of light—it’s utterly vital.”
Paul Murray, author of Skippy Dies and The Mark and the Void

“A dystopia in a velvet glove . . . Richly enjoyable . . . Chilling . . . [Kennard’s poetry] combines accessibility with formal daring and a twist of surrealism. He brings all these qualities to this novel, along with a jaunty lightness that makes the pages slip by deceptively easily.”
Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“The sort of book that cuts you off from your family and has you walking blindly through seven lanes of traffic with your face pressed obliviously to the page.”
James Marriott, The Times

“Uncomfortably familiar . . . Gripping.”
Max Liu, The Financial Times

“To read Luke Kennard is to experience the gleeful rush that comes with encountering a writer who has an uncanny ability to scoop the contents of your head directly onto the page.”

“An eerie premonition at the fate of today’s squeezed middle . . . Kennard has taken topical issues of today, added in technological advancement of tomorrow and shown how it could result in social disaster . . . An insightful work of fiction with dark wit and unsettling accuracy.”
Margaret Madden, The Irish Times

Product Details
ISBN: 9780374278717
ISBN-10: 0374278717
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication Date: January 9th, 2018
Pages: 336
Language: English
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