DiscoverScience Fiction

Ms. Never

By Colin Dodds

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Ms. Never is an excellent portrayal of mental illness, and how sometimes the symptoms of mental illness can become superpowers

Synopsis

Farya Navurian seems like an ordinary young woman trying to get ahead in the city while struggling with depression. But her depression is anything but ordinary - it has the power to destroy time and space. Growing up the moody daughter of a space-faring hero of The Greater Anointed Imperial Ohioan Commonwealth, Farya annihilated most of that world and its history, leaving behind the husk-like Buckeye State.

One day at a record swap, she meets Bryan, a divorced telecom CEO. More than record collecting, what they share is that they each carry a howling secret. Bryan’s business is a cover for a bigger operation that buys human souls and sells luxury afterlives using shady terms of service in mobile-phone contracts.

The two of them fall in love, and as they start a life together, their secrets back them into a corner where they have to come clean - and take drastic steps - to save themselves, and possibly reality itself.

I was overjoyed when I was presented with the opportunity to review Ms. Never. I am a woman struggling with Major Depressive Disorder, Quiet Borderline Personality Disorder, and Complex PTSD, so I am always looking for novels that accurately portray mental illness in a unique way. Ms. Never surpassed my expectations in this way. The novel's protagonist, Farya Navurian, suffers from depression, but instead of being presented as a damsel in distress, she ends up having superpowers as a byproduct of her mental illness. I have never read a book that portrays some of the symptoms of mental illness in this way, and I fell in love with Colin Dodds' one-of-a-kind story line.


Ms. Never is equal parts science fiction and romance, while portraying the complexities of modern life. Both of the primary characters of the novel - Farya and Bryan - are multifaceted and develop beautifully throughout the novel. I gobbled this novel up and yearned for more upon finishing. I am amazed and delighted by Dodd's genre bending novel and view of mental illness, and I can't recommend this novel enough. Ms. Never appeals to a variety of audiences due to its genre-crossing story line, and I hope that you will pick it up as soon as you can! This story will leave you forever changed.

Reviewed by

Ashley Nestler, MSW is a multi-genre author, poet, and mental health expert. She is also an educator in writing and publishing and specializes in romance, science fiction, and horror. Ashley can often be found holed up in her room reading horror romances unapologetically.

Synopsis

Farya Navurian seems like an ordinary young woman trying to get ahead in the city while struggling with depression. But her depression is anything but ordinary - it has the power to destroy time and space. Growing up the moody daughter of a space-faring hero of The Greater Anointed Imperial Ohioan Commonwealth, Farya annihilated most of that world and its history, leaving behind the husk-like Buckeye State.

One day at a record swap, she meets Bryan, a divorced telecom CEO. More than record collecting, what they share is that they each carry a howling secret. Bryan’s business is a cover for a bigger operation that buys human souls and sells luxury afterlives using shady terms of service in mobile-phone contracts.

The two of them fall in love, and as they start a life together, their secrets back them into a corner where they have to come clean - and take drastic steps - to save themselves, and possibly reality itself.

FARYA

It’s a nice fall day in Camden, New York. Sunny and cool, and my sweater feels good. The traffic is light; half the city is staying home to watch the game. The stadium is on the other side of town. I can see the blimp above it on the way to Goalposts. Dumb name, but whatever, I say, pulling into the parking lot. I’ve started to notice that I say “but whatever” a lot when it comes to Romeo.

The bar is a half-hour drive usually, but I do it in twenty minutes, so I’m not as late as I’d planned to be. I don’t love football, but the sports bar is where Romeo said he’d be, a little too offhandedly. He’s a big Camden Railsplitters fan. So, there I go.

He’s there with his friends. They’ve already ordered a five-foot-tall plastic tower of pale-yellow beer. The place is crowded, with new flat-screen TVs mounted flush to the walls or angled down from the corners. Each screen shows a different game. He kisses me hello on the lips, in front of everyone, like it’s no big deal. One more thing I’ll misinterpret, I think. But then he kisses me again and pours me a plastic cup of beer from the tower.  

We’re all talking and drinking and watching the game. Time speeds up a bit. The Camden Railsplitters are playing the New York Jets. It’s some kind of rivalry, I overhear. The game is close, and the bar is divided. Fans of each team exchange jibes. Romeo is as loud and lewd as any of them. I cheer along, slap high fives with his friends.

And for a moment, things are going swimmingly, and I say, “Oh, I see why people do this.” I look past the bar at a big screen with the game projected on it, and before the snap, I start to wonder, even worry, what will happen next. It’s a strange flicker of anxiety.

That’s when it begins, with one coincidence. The movement, form, and color on one of the smaller televisions—showing a different game—synchronizes with the action on the big screen. Then fans at one end of the bar erupt in unison for different games, but for similar and simultaneous reasons.

Then the different games on the TVs ringing the room coincide. It’s eerie at first. A dozen NFL teams making the same third-down conversion on the same play in far-flung cities across the United States. Then the next play and its outcome match on every screen in the bar. The pauses between plays synchronize, along with the chatter and commercials that fill those pauses. The injuries, timeouts, the cadence of close-up and wide-angle shots uniform themselves. The team logos take on shared attributes and colors. Faces repeat.

Above the beer, chicken wings, and idle jokes about the athletes on the television, I begin to hear a familiar, deafening hum. I know it isn’t from the future or the past but from a central point out of which every moment emerges and returns to, like a solar flare ribboning out from the surface of the sun.

In that moment, I know what happens next, but it’s gone too far by that point. The images on the screens match, superimpose. So do the faces around me, and the words they say. Then the sensations of the sounds synchronize. Soon there is no room for anything left over from this twinning and folding-in. The process ends with one last numb certainty: The day is all leftover, all the time is time to kill.

Sick with fear and disappointment, I scramble through what little I’ve learned from having seen this so many times before, and I have some idea of how to stop it: I can yell a racial slur; I can stab myself in the neck with my car keys; I can throw my beer into the face of a girl nearby; I can kick Romeo in the balls—while he’s still Romeo. That could throw the moment out of whack just enough so it can continue to be itself. But I don’t do any of those things. Maybe I fell out of practice. Maybe I stopped believing I was the kind of girl upon whom these things depended. I trusted normalcy and relinquished such a strange responsibility.

Below the TVs, all the bar’s conversations circle the same subject, but not like they’re all talking about the game, or the election, or the newest phone or the latest disgraced celebrity. This is more complete. The conversations take on the same emotional tenor, then the same mix of new and old information, the same mix of humor and desperation, the same pauses for refreshment, and finally the same words.

The people in the bar are wearing one of four casual outfits, which they wear in exact sequence, almost like playing cards. It’s the visual symmetry—the twinning like the folding up of paper dolls that comes last—just before a collapse. The annihilation of differentiation only escalates. It is too late.

Suddenly, the sports bar with the dumb name isn’t exactly that anymore. Unglued from its specifics, from its place on the map and on the calendar, it’s a room of busy windows where dozens of alternate possibilities intersect. The beer isn’t even beer anymore, but a ritual or mechanical object. I tell myself to wake up, to lash out and interrupt the process. But attention is the best bargain I can make. Seeing and remembering is the closest I can get to controlling what happens next.

The coincidences accelerate like a chain reaction in a nuclear bomb. I have to push my chin up against its terrible force to pay attention and remember.

The sports bar, Goalposts, approaches its moment of criticality. The games and conversations fold in like a roadmap along common fault lines of words, actions, sensations, and habits. Those fault lines extend outward to the metropolis of Camden, New York, in the twenty-first century. The bar, the parking lot, the city of Camden, its history and everyone in it, all crease without a shudder down to a single precise, yet incomprehensible, phrase. Then the phrase grows simpler. It becomes a single sound, a single color, a single sensation.

The sensation vibrates into a hum that eradicates every pretense of somethingness. It happens to me; it happens with a feeling like swallowing and being swallowed at once, like a seizure. It is over fast.

Then I’m outside a gas station on the edge of a small, mostly forgotten town. The town is Camden, New York, where my mother and stepfather live. It has no sports bar. It doesn’t have much. I look around and see bright foliage and electrical wires over a two-lane state highway. But I don’t need to look to know what I know—the City of Camden is gone, along with most of its two million residents, its suburbs, and many of its unique contributions to the human experience.

That Camden never existed now—except for what I remember. And I know that I’ll start forgetting more every day. I look around again for something to do. It is still a nice warm day. The sun is bright through yellow leaves.

I remember promising myself to remember.

 

It was the worst seizure—her word for it—that Farya Navurian had endured, and the worst damage she had incurred since she was a sophomore in high school. In some ways, it was worse.

Farya spent the next few days afterward in her old bedroom, in the house in Camden that her mother and stepfather shared. When she returned from Goalposts, it was unrecognizable at first—a two-story yellow clapboard house on a sprawling yard that edged into the woods. But just that morning, it had been a yellow-brick townhouse in a quiet section of a lively city.

She told her mother she didn’t feel well, said she didn’t want to talk about it. Her mother, worried but calm, left her alone for the first few days, brought food to her room.  

Farya was afraid to speak, afraid that any word she said would confirm the reality of what she’d done to Camden, to Romeo, to so many people. The woods behind the house and the deep, silent darkness all around whispered new memories of her redacted and adapted hometown. Her bedroom took shape around a revised childhood. She knew the memories but also knew she’d need them—arriving from Ohio to this nowhere of scrub forest, hills, and farmland in the seventh grade. Memories of her stepfather teaching at a regional high school, where the boys knew how to fix a diesel motor, and they canceled classes for the first day of deer-hunting season. Everyone needs a story.

Alone in her room, Farya was devastated. She’d imagined that she had gained some control over her destructive seizures. For all the savvy and discipline she’d earned, this slipped through. If not an illusion, the years she’d spent with a sense of self-control meant the unthinkable: She was culpable. If so, there was no forgiveness for that. And, Farya knew from experience, there was almost no one she could tell. 

The house was old. She could hear her mother and stepfather in the living room, talking in the voices they used while trying not to be heard. 

By the third night, Farya had to tell her mother something, so she told her mother that she’d lost her job and needed some time to regroup. Her stepfather had gone to bed, and Farya was alone with her mother, drinking tea in the living room. The room was lively—all busy patterns in Middle-Eastern bright gold and bronze, bold Ohio-State scarlet and gray, and the bright earth hues of Native American rugs. It made the space feel small, warm.

“That can be hard,” her mother said. “Do you know what you might do next?”

“I’m not sure. I thought I might stay here for a while.”

“Here? You’ll be climbing the walls in a week. What about your life in Syracuse?” her mother asked.

Like that, the thing Farya hadn’t wanted to think about—her life—was upon her. In those few days, reality had quietly scabbed over after a horrible wound. But upon hearing her mother say the word Syracuse, Farya began to remember her apartment there, her job, her life. The freshly made up memory sealed things for the Camden, New York Metro Area. Syracuse was the dying tone of a bell that couldn’t be unrung. 

“I don’t know,” Farya said, her voice small and choked. “I’m really tired now.”

“You rest up. We like having you home. And everyone has their hiccups. I got lost going to the Top Friendly Market, if you can imagine. I hope I’m not going senile.”

“You’re not, Mom. You’re steady as ever.”

Alone in her room, kneeling on her bed, Farya wept into a pillow pressed between her face and the mattress. She wondered if suicide would make matters better or worse. She dangled in utter befuddlement, flanked on all sides by terror and guilt. That’s when she put on her headphones and turned up the Thelonious Monk. He helped her will herself to a state of mere sickening remorse. If her frustration and boredom could eradicate a whole city, what would her despair do?

The days became weeks. Farya started to go on walks. Camden, the small town, unfolded according to the common logic of small towns. Every new sensation, every new strange bend and twist in the landscape and in Farya’s own biography seemed to encourage her to say, oh yes, of course to it. She knew that her survival and sanity—and seemingly much more—depended on her saying so.      

More than once, her mother asked if Farya wanted to talk to someone. As a teenager, she had come close to being committed to an institution after being far too frank with a therapist. And so no, Farya said she didn’t want to talk to anyone. To buy time, she lied to her mother, adding a bad breakup, then, a few days later, hinted at some light domestic abuse and, finally, admitted a miscarriage that never happened. Each quieted the hushed conversations in the rooms below hers and won her a few more days alone in her room, alone on her walks.

The pull to forget her life in Camden was like a tide. It challenged Farya’s every thought. It relieved and disgusted her. It was one last act of destruction she was being asked to commit, and she refused. It hurt to remember the place, the people, and her life there. But she persisted, focusing on what exactly had happened that day, explaining it to herself, making the pain of it a monument inside of her.

It’s a nice fall day in Camden, New York. Sunny and cool, and my sweater feels good. The traffic is light; half the city is staying home to watch the game.

 

In the many empty spaces and hours of moving to a new city, finding an apartment, applying for jobs, waiting for interviews, sitting in parks, cafes, and bars, while slowly making new friends, she would recite what had happened that one afternoon in a bar and a city that had never been there. Remembering would never be enough. But it was all she could do. The stadium is on the other side of town. I can see the blimp above it on the way to Goalposts. Dumb name, but whatever, I say, pulling into the parking lot.

It was a cold afternoon in Brooklyn. The radiator in her room was sizzling. She opened the window a crack. People out in the street talked loudly, going to brunch or bars. She’d always loved New York City. It was a place that didn’t need anyone—least of all her. That made her feel safe.

Farya checked her phone and started reciting again, at the beginning, to keep a costly promise. Besides, she had nothing else to do. The store said the mattress would be delivered sometime between eleven and six.

I’ve started to notice that I say “but whatever” a lot when it comes to Romeo.

The bar is a half-hour drive usually, but I do it in twenty minutes, so I’m not as late as I’d planned to be. I don’t love football, but the sports bar is where Romeo said he’d be, a little too offhandedly. He’s a big Camden Railsplitters fan. So, there I go.

 

+

 

On the subway, Farya reread her resume. The night before, she’d had to look up where she’d worked last. After the Greater Camden Metropolitan Area had vanished to a pinprick of a one-stoplight town, the world remembered Farya differently—as having lived and worked in Syracuse, at a small design company, not unlike the place she’d worked in Camden. And reading over her resume, she seemed to remember it well enough.

To be safe, Farya put down her best friend Ethan as her reference. He’d confirm whatever she said in the interview, as she’d done many times for him, impersonating a host of former managers on his behalf. Too smart for his own good, Ethan had his own problems. Going back to their troubled teenage years in Ohio, they’d learned to help each other cheat around their respective shortcomings.

Farya’s new heels reverberated through the bright, cavernous foyer. The place was designed to be intimidating. The conference room was old, dark wood, with a huge wooden slab of table and a wide clean vista of the rectangle-busy thirty-story level of Midtown.

She interviewed with a man in an orange blazer—the Chief Creative Implementation Officer, who said, every chance he got, that he wasn’t an insurance guy. Farya watched him size her up. She knew she was attractive—a strong chin and nose, with shrewd and active eyes—complex, mature. Strong features. Whether or not she was pretty, her mother explained when she was young, was up to her. “No woman is so pretty that a man wouldn’t prefer one who he can’t quite figure out.” Her boyfriends, the ones who lasted the longest, had seemed as if they couldn’t decide if she was gorgeous or repulsive, and couldn’t look away until they decided. Usually, they ran out of time. Farya was not a patient person.

Her interviewer looked at her for that extra second. Then, with a little awkward laugh, began to ask her questions.  

“Some strategy,” she responded. She was careful to sound upbeat. But based on his silence, she realized she’d have to make up more. Easy enough—she’d seen all of reality flow and eddy in before her eyes—a plausible lie was never out of reach. Reality was more outrageous than anything she might make up about spearheading a marketing strategy for a real estate developer in Syracuse.

Farya spoke easily about coordinating a multi-media, multi-strategy campaign as part of overall planning and outreach at the small company she hadn’t even heard of until the night before. Faking it came to her so easily that she often wondered if there even was any other ability a person might have. The man interviewing her, close to fifty, in a T-shirt, orange blazer, and sneakers, gave no indication that there was.

 

About the author

Colin Dodds is a writer with several books to his name. His writing has appeared in more than three hundred publications including Gothamist, Painted Bride Quarterly, and The Washington Post. He lives in New York City, with his wife and daughter. view profile

Published on November 01, 2019

Published by

120000 words

Genre: Science Fiction

Reviewed by

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