As the coronavirus wreaks havoc across the globe, millions of people have been confined to their homes, reliant on videochats and news alerts to stay connected with friends and family and the happenings of the world outside. Well before the crisis, of course, many of us ordered groceries online, courted partners via apps, and spent hours creating web profiles—all ways of trying to bring order to aspects of modern existence. What those of us in quarantine are now experiencing is qualitatively different: The digital sphere has become a primary source of intimacy even as the cadences of the offline world—grief, sacrifice, ineptitude—make us feel ever more helpless.
I thought about this duality in considering a collection of stories I first picked up before the pandemic. The tales now carry an eerie resonance. In You Will Never Be Forgotten, Mary South imagines a near future in which the human pursuit of control through technology greatly intensifies. Written with dark humor and a striking lack of sentimentality, these stories are vehicles for characters who each use tech to try to retrieve that which is irrevocably lost: the freedom of the pre-violated body, the child taken from the world prematurely, the normalcy that vanishes after the death of a loved one. Like episodes of Black Mirror, in which futuristic devices propel psychological unraveling, South’s stories explore tragedy as it flits uncomfortably between the digital and physical worlds. And at a time when the hunger for in-person connection is enormous, they also double as aching reminders of forms of human coping that aren’t currently possible.