STARRED REVIEW
December 08, 2020

Crosshairs

By Catherine Hernandez

Catherine Hernandez’s sharp-eyed, queer dystopian fantasy is no gentle wake-up call. It is a blaring fire alarm and a call to arms against authoritarianism, white supremacy and transphobia.

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Catherine Hernandez’s sharp-eyed, queer dystopian fantasy is no gentle wake-up call. It is a blaring fire alarm and a call to arms against authoritarianism, white supremacy and transphobia. This surreal political nightmare unfolds in a near future in which an environmental disaster has ravaged the economy and amplified social tensions, clearing the way for a revanchist government to restore old-fashioned white patriarchal rule. It’s also the story of burgeoning awareness, resistance and uprising.

When Crosshairs begins, fascism is in full bloom in Toronto. With the police and military working arm in arm, the Others—people who are brown, Black, disabled or queer—are being rounded up and their property confiscated. Some are killed. The rest are forced into workhouses at gunpoint. The shift from subtle discrimination to outright oppression is swift, leaving many bewildered, as they can’t quite grasp what’s happening in their ostensibly liberal parliamentary democracy.

Readers experience the story primarily through Kay’s perspective. Kay stands smack-dab at the intersection of most of the identities targeted by this regime, and his initial objectives are simply, understandably, to stay alive and reunite with the love of his life, Evan. When the violence strikes too close to home, Kay and Evan temporarily separate so that Evan can secure his mother, with plans to meet in a safe place. As he waits in worry, Kay tells much of the story to his beloved in a “whisper letter,” writing, “My bed consists of two layers of cardboard boxes cut to fit in the corner of space behind the furnace, and a pile of Liv’s old winter coats, which I use as blankets and a pillow. The idea is, if I need to leave again and in a hurry, what remains behind won’t resemble a hideout for me: a Queer Femme Jamaican Filipino man. Anne Frank, minus the diary.”

As Kay indicates, the offenses carried about by the government have both literary and historical precedent. The events in Crosshairs feature both clear references and subtler parallels to the Holocaust. There are also echoes of The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Hernandez’s fellow Canadian Margaret Atwood. As in that feminist dystopian narrative, one of the first actions taken by the government against the Others is to restrict their finances without warning. The brutal shift to authoritarian rule is also blamed on terrorist action, just as in the earlier book.

At times, Hernandez’s prose style is gorgeously poetic. At other points, as when critiquing the authoritarian regime or the privilege of allies, the writing is openly didactic toward secondary characters who are little more than symbols and vehicles for argument. In these scenes, dialogue unfurls like political discourse rather than as urgent conversation about events happening around them. The subject absolutely merits impassioned appeal, but this aspect of the execution undermines its aim somewhat. Rhetorical appeals in fiction rely on two key things for effect: the reader’s absorption into the narrative and their identification with the protagonist. These phenomena encourage readers to let go of their defenses, effectively shutting down counterarguments, even when the story’s message conflicts with the reader’s prior beliefs. Kay is a brilliantly nuanced, fully formed character, both tender and brave, so identifying with him is easy. Where Crosshairs sometimes falls short, however, is in letting the reader fully engage and feel absorbed into the story. It’s hard not to see the forceful political appeal at work.

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Crosshairs

Crosshairs

By Catherine Hernandez
Atria
ISBN 9781982146023

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