I thought I'd check this out while waiting on the most recent Kate Daniels to get its ass in at the library. On the Edge deals with a pocket universe called, ahem, the Edge, that exists between the Broken (us'ens) and the Weird (magic'ens). The Edge is a narrow band separating the two, where magic and tech mix. The people the occupy the Edge tend to eke out a pretty haphazard existence, working shit jobs in the Broken because they don't have the requisite papers from our world, or bartering between the Weird and the Broken for trinkets and Pepsi. Or they farm, or cook meth, or whatever. Altogether, a pretty great metaphor for populations who live in poverty for one reason or another, be it cussedness or that they're los illegales.
Main character Rose is in her 20s, raising up two much younger brothers after her mom died and her dad run off (again). She's got a grandmother who helps out, but that's about it, and a minimum wage job in the Broken cleaning offices for 10 hours a day, no time off for good behavior. The novel opens with one of her brothers tearing up his new, expensive shoes by being a boy, and the crushing decision to buy him new ones. Because she knows he'll be laughed at in school with the wrong shoes, or torn shoes, or, God help them, no shoes at all. He'll be laughed at anyway, but new shoes is just one fewer reason. Shoes bought, then she has to figure out how they're going to eat for the next week.
So, so rarely does pop fiction deal in actual poverty, working poverty, the kind that so many of my fellow Americans have to live with. A good friend of mine is getting foreclosed on -- she's losing the house she raised her boys in -- because she donated a son a kidney after his utterly failed. I'm not sure how this would have been treated under Obamacare, but this was before the ACA passed, and was treated like an elective surgery. ( I know the ACA kept me out of a spiral of medical bills, which was passed just months before I would have been crushed by the "preexisting condition".) But before Obamacare, her kidney transplant to save her son set off a spiral of medical bills and lost work that lead her here, looking at getting turned out of the home that she's spent 25 years paying a mortgage on. Fucking hell.
So it was, refreshing isn't the word, maybe satisfying is what I mean, to see characters grapple with the implacable cruelty of poverty, how poverty gives zero fucks if you have a degree or a good work ethic or a dying son, it's just going to grind you down like glaciers. And other people, otherwise well meaning people, are going to judge the ever living fuck out of you for your bad shoes and bad car and bad food. For having the temerity to be poor.
On the Edge ends up being something of a Cinderella tale, all told, which I don't quite know what to think of. On the one hand, I don't mind a wish fulfillment exercise when the wishes are "get me the fuck out of this impoverished nightmare". Rose is not a pretty useless nothing, but principled and disciplined, understandably more competent than her 22 years might imply. She's had to grow up, and grow up fast, and has too many people counting on her to swoon or moon over a rich dude. Rich dudes are dangerous and trouble; they think they can own you.
Nor do I particularly want it to end with dire disaster. I can read miserablist fiction for that, thank you, not urban fantasy. I guess I just wish there had been a middle path, one that let Rose live in her Edge community, near her grandmother, on the land of her ancestors. Maybe that's the real wish fulfillment exercise, a naive wish within myself that we can break out of the rote poverty without severing ties completely, cut off from our peers because they are no longer our peers. Alas.