The not-so-distant future of Rachel Swirsky’s January Fifteenth involves a study of four women on disbursement day of the annual universal basic income payment. The chapters are broken up by character—Hannah, Janelle, Olivia, and Sarah—and recount the woman’s experiences in the third person.
While each woman’s story is vastly different from the next, some elements are missing that could have made the narrative more compelling. Hannah is trying to shield her son’s from an abusive ex-wife who always seems to find them on UBI day. Janelle, a reporter, is juggling the mandatory UBI interviews she does each year with trying to parent her younger political activist sister in the aftermath of their parents’ death. Olivia’s on a drug-induced bender with other rich college kids trying to waste the UBI in the most unique way. Sarah is a pregnant teenager traveling by foot to collect the UBI with her fellow sister-wives.
Each woman has a story, but they all feel incomplete. Hannah’s and Sarah’s stories are the most compelling, but they lack the backstory and the teeth to make the women’s ordeals as powerful as they could be. And Swirsky’s choice to only focus on the individual day doesn’t allow for much character development.
There is an interesting and thoughtful premise at the heart of January Fifteenth, but the author’s decision not to elaborate on the process of the UBI at all leaves some of the political commentary lacking. However, if speculative fiction with a focus on women’s experience is your jam, this is the book for you.
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