For a Tech Employee in Silicon Valley, a ‘Black Hole’ Looms Large

For a Tech Employee in Silicon Valley, a ‘Black Hole’ Looms Large

Credit…Angie Wang RIPE , by Sarah Rose Etter In Rachel Aviv's “ Strangers to Ourselves ,” a woman describes mental health as “like your darkness is still there, but it's almost like it's next to you as opposed to your totality of being.” That darkness — which could be labeled depression, anxiety or any number of official but imperfect diagnoses — is given a physical form in Sarah Rose Etter's absorbing and sharp second , “Ripe.” The follows Cassie, a 33-year-old tech employee in San Francisco who has lived all her life alongside a looming “black hole,” both a threat and a companion. The black hole expands or shrinks, moves farther away or closer, is quiet or sings, depending on what Cassie is doing and how she's feeling. When she's high on cocaine, “it winnows to a speck.” On her commute to the Silicon Valley building where she works among “Believers” (her term for the all-in tech workers with their “wan skin and glassy eyes,” their “wind jackets with tech logos” and “white plastic airbuds” that “override the sound of real life”), the black hole grows, “blocking out the sun, forcing itself into the scenes of my life.” When the chef Cassie is dating says they need to talk, “the black hole swelled to the size of a melon.” Cassie has spent years researching black holes in an attempt to understand her own. She reads books, studies and news articles, and relates the resulting information to the reader like a notebook, interspersing the text with paragraphs of binary code, bulleted facts, headlines and quotes from astrophysicists. Her research is driven by a fearful curiosity that sometimes sucks away all her joy, and yet she is lured by its call: The black hole “is the siren song of the void.” Eventually Cassie determines that there are “two possible outcomes if you enter a black hole: You may be ripped to shreds, or there is a slim chance you will cross into another space and time, another dimension.” Hovering over the novel are the questions: What happens on the other […]

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