I didn’t know when I started Barren Cove, by Ariel S. Winter, that it would be the second book in a row that dealt with existential crisis. The difference between this book and The Elegance of the Hedgehog is that the protagonists in Barren Cove are almost all robots. Winter’s brief tale is a retelling of Wuthering Heights. But, you know, with robots.
Sapien, a robot, arrives at Barren Cove for a vacation. He has been damaged and is using the time at the beach house to think. Once at Barren Cove, he discovers that the inhabitants have secrets that are much more interesting than whatever he was planning to think about. He hacks the house computer, Dean, to find out what the inhabitants of the main house are hiding from him.
I didn’t know that Barren Cove was a retelling until about halfway through, when I twigged to the similarities between the robots and the characters from Wuthering Heights. The house computer named Dean niggled at my memory until I figured it out. Then I saw the tortured relationship between Kent and Mary (robots) and Beachstone (one of the only humans in the book) and the framed structure of the narrative. Plus, all the angst made a lot more sense.
I didn’t like Wuthering Heights, but I did like what this novel was up to. Even though the robots are all caught up in their computerized emotions, they keep running into questions about their purpose. There are few humans left in the world. Most robots are made by other robots. But without humans to tell the robots what to do, the robots are left to find their own reason for continued existence. Some, like Kent, turn to hobbies. Mary finds love with Beachstone. But Clarke, Kent and Mary’s “child,” spends most of his time testing the limits of his physical abilities. Some of the older robots choose to permanently deactivate because they cannot bear to just be without humans. In Wuthering Heights, the characters never seemed to rise above their emotional turmoil.
Barren Cove is a disturbing little novel. There is violence, of course, but the questions raised by the characters are much more unsettling than the fights and betrayals.
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration. It will be released 26 April 2016.