Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness gave us, “The King was pregnant,” to define an alternate society. Jack Remick’s Citadel gives us, “Jahil is pregnant,” to define his brave imminent world. Jahil is a woman impregnated by cells from another woman, rendering men unnecessary. Scientist Daiva Izokaitas impregnates Jahil in her lab. The scientist writes a novel to explain what this event means. Seattle writer of seventeen novels and collections of poetry, Jack Remick turns a new direction with this science fiction novel. Unlike many of his prior novels, stories of boys and men, of boys becoming men, Citadel is a society’s story, a specie’s story, a thought experiment on “divergent evolution”—men and women evolving on separate tracks. “Divergent evolution” is also the premise of the book within the book, Daiva’s novel. Her novel is also called Citadel.
Daiva gives her manuscript to Trisha De Tours, an editor at Pinnacle Publishing. (Like all the names referring to Citadels?) Much of the action of Remick’s novel is Trisha editing Daiva’s manuscript. Remick has written a book about reading, writing, and editing—creation, gestation, thought. From Daiva hearing, “A novel isn’t a book until it has an ISBN,” until her book comes out near the end, Remick walks the reader through her manuscript, seen from the point of view of its editor. The book within the book depicts a “post-lesbian” future in which women live in protective citadels and question the necessity of men. Since her version of parthenogenesis—in her lab and in her fictional story—renders men obsolete for reproductive purposes, Daiva’s manuscript comes loaded with giant philosophical questions: What is human? What is gender? What is desire? Shall we further change the evolutionary course of the planet and eliminate men all together? Her delivery includes gruesome violence between the genders as they sort these questions. One scene even carries a trigger warning. There might be others. The violence threshold is high, as if Daiva/Remick deliberately provoke, in the manner of Anthony Burgess. Peopled with archetypal characters, (the glands, the hunters, the technicians, the daughters), Daiva’s Citadel tastes of fantasy despite her frequent pronouncements of its truthfulness. When Trisha wants information about Daiva’s science and the terms she chooses to describe the males in her manuscript — Exo, Gland, Mutant, etc.– Daiva expounds.
Citadel investigates Remick’s share of giant questions about genetics and evolution. Daiva’s big questions are his own, of course. (Of course, because the nesting of stories does create a layering of degrees of fictionality. Yes, all the characters are to the same degree invented, but Remick creates two worlds within his book, asking readers to believe both are truth, but hinting first one, then the other, is the more real.) I took interest in secondary questions, such as “Have birth control and abortion changed us behaviorally/chemically/ biologically?” Remick also makes some statements. Science matters to society. Gender politics are in flux. Women don’t need men. “Truth is brutal,” as Trisha tells Daiva. Because of the book within the book, Remick gets to ask a double set of questions, and make a double set of statements.
In Babel Tower, A.S. Byatt plunks within her novel her mayhem-maker’s entire novel, in a sweep. In Citadel, Jack Remick parcels Daiva’s novel into small segments, delivered as Trisha reads them. Trisha seems to read out of sequence so that the story within the story resembles a puzzle that the reader may try to put together, to sequence—reminding me of sequencing genes. Rather than following the path of an individual, Daiva introduces a new set of characters in almost every scene of her Citadel. Her novel develops an iconic feel perhaps to boost her message that her story belongs to all women.
The book and the book within the book coil around each other. Remick plants scenes in dreams, repeats images, has “real” life imitating art, has the stories curl around on themselves, helix-style. Trisha says, “I was as deep into Citadel as I could be — I, the editor, had become a character in the novel that, as I changed it, changed me. I saw how everything was possible. There was a river of words running over me.” Reading alters brain chemistry, says Remick. All his female characters who read Citadel undergo radical change. Through heavy editing and entering the story herself, Trisha changes Daiva’s story in return. Citadel shows the action of reading and writing, the creative process within the creative process, as in an injection of genetic material from the female into a female, inventing literary parthenogenesis—the editor alters the story; the scientist alters the genes; the story alters the writer and the reader. Daiva’s novel becomes the scientific and sociological reality for the women who read it. Its story describes them. The power of the author is distributed through the reading such that Citadel becomes “a manifesto for the salvation of the human race,” and a prophecy for the Citadel story-line and characters.
Citadel belongs to a group of women. Remick tells his story through four first-person women: Trisha and Daiva, Trisha’s psychologist Rose Katz, Pinnacle publisher Clara Kreisler; and through the book within the book, notes made by Trisha as she edits, Daiva’s replies, texts and emails between them, and through a mysterious coda to Daiva’s manuscript. Meanwhile, Clara’s brother works to adapt Citadel as a movie. The last 30 pages were my favorite. After Pinnacle publishes Daiva’s Citadel, the contemporary story slips from its reading-editing pacing into a break-neck plot. All four narrators reappear—a couple have held silent for much of the novel. Remick’s two worlds blend. “Citadel,” the movie, links the two as it is part documentary, part journalism, and part scripted. Citadel’s structure spirals to an ending located in Daiva’s novelistic world, suggesting it is the true one, the least fictional. Remick enjoys inventing worlds, inventing meaning. Where Citadel ends marks the new time of Daiva’s described future. Citadel is a societal origin story, the code.
Citadel by Jack Remick (Paperback, 378 pages, published October 2017 by Quartet Global Books)
Pamela Hobart Carter loves Seattle as much for its water and mountains as for its bustle and creativity. She explores the Emerald City daily while walking her dog. Carter used to be a teacher who wrote on the side. Now she is a writer who teaches on the side.