In Love Orange, her first novel, Natasha Randall, a literary translator of Russian authors (among them Gogol and Dostoevsky), sets out to satirize the digital age. It is pre-Trump America and the Tinkleys live on Maple Drive, a suburban cul-de-sac. Jenny Tinkley works part-time in a plastic surgeon’s office and nurses a secret crush on President Obama. Her husband Hank, whose career is faltering, kits out their home with the latest technology. Thirteen-year-old Jesse is a videogame addict experimenting with the dark web. Luke, eight, compulsively orders the world around him and is suspected to be on the autistic spectrum, but, aware that “the internet knew too much to be helpful”, he is the most clued-up of the family.
Technology has infiltrated everyday life to the extent that at their Episcopalian church, confessions are sent via WhatsApp messages and congregants wish each other “Peace be with you” over a church-led group chat. A comedy of errors ensues when the priest tries to decipher which of his congregants is confessing to crimes on the “God-phone”. The Tinkleys’ smart house is not as menacing as the Happylife Home in Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Veldt” (1950), in which the nursery is a virtual reality room reflecting the children’s wildest imaginings, but Jenny feels trapped within its walls nevertheless.
Through an outreach programme that connects prisoners with pen-pals, Jenny strikes up a friendship with John, who is doing time for manslaughter. When he starts sending her envelopes sealed with orange-tinted glue to pass on to his wife, incarcerated elsewhere as an accessory to the crime, Jenny is curious. A little lick of the Froot Loop-smelling orange substance one day infuses her with a “liquid, sweet warmth”, sending her down a rabbit hole in pursuit of the “taste of freedom”.
Hank, meanwhile, takes the boys camping in an attempt to model masculinity: “This is a real wild camping trip – right, boys? We’re going to be like Neanderthals. Grrrr!” But the trip backfires spectacularly when the boys get lost. He is not much help at home, either. “When I was young, I thought the whole man-woman problem, I thought it was done”, Jenny reflects. “I really had no idea that getting married was, for women, not a good thing.” It is only when Hank watches the home surveillance footage that he realizes what his wife…
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