Forget flying cars, the future looks a lot like today, albeit ravaged by climate change and an ever-widening wealth gap. Enter Oval, a party drug designed to induce feelings of generosity in its privileged users and compel them to give without restraint to the less fortunate. Conveniently, this chemical counterbalance to capitalism’s ills places the burden of systemic change on the individual, while simultaneously profiting and exonerating the company that owns the drug, aka the giant corporation that owns just about everything. It’s a perfect ouroboros of neoliberalism and a hugely enjoyable premise for dystopia, especially when the writer is as clever as Elvia Wilk. But there’s more — this book has more layers than the platonic ideal of nachos. In broadest terms, it’s a story about love and relationships and responsibility and identity, about existing in a world that’s collapsing. It is deeply dark and unexpectedly funny, bleakly familiar and completely original. Oval feels like a cult classic, something that is effortlessly iconic and endlessly discussed. Recommended By Lauren P., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"Everything is work — mourning, clubbing, reading your partner's moods. And everything is a scam — plants that become buildings, jobs that become consultancies, apps that become jobs. With astonishing emotional accuracy, Oval records what it feels like to hover between two poles." — Sasha Frere-Jones
"J. G. Ballard meets William Gibson meets Jeff VanderMeer. Oval is an up-to-the-minute story about the twilight zones of corporate design, aesthetics, pharmacy, and bioengineering, where there's nothing consultants won't break in the quest for 'innovation.' What could possibly go wrong? Find out in Elvia Wilk's crisp and stylish debut book." — McKenzie Wark, author of Gamer Theory and A Hacker Manifesto
"Deeply weird and unsettlingly hilarious, Wilk's dystopian debut pushes the grim absurdities of the present just a little bit further, into a near future that's too plausible for comfort... The book's true surprise is its startling emotional kick: If the circumstances are heightened to extremes, the relationships — with their delicate dynamics — are all too real. Witty and alarming, a satire with (unexpected) heart." — Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)
Bizarre weather. Unprecedented economic disparity. Artists employed by corporations. And the ultimate work of art: Oval, a pill that increases generosity. This unforgettable debut novel asks questions of empathy and power on every scale — from bodies to bureaucracies — to create an unsettling portrait of the future.
In the near future, Berlin's real estate is being flipped in the name of "sustainability," only to make the city even more unaffordable; artists are employed by corporations as consultants, and the weather is acting strange. When Anja and Louis are offered a rent-free home on an artificial mountain — yet another eco-friendly initiative run by a corporation — they seize the opportunity, but it isn't long before the experimental house begins malfunctioning.
After Louis's mother dies, Anja is convinced he has changed. At work, Louis has become obsessed with a secret project: a pill called Oval that temporarily rewires the user's brain to be more generous. While Anja is horrified, Louis believes he has found the solution to Berlin's income inequality. Oval is a fascinating portrait of the unbalanced relationships that shape our world, as well as a prescient warning of what the future may hold.
"A fascinating near-future exploration of relationships, sustainability, and power. An extraordinarily accomplished debut novel." — Jeff VanderMeer, author of Borne and Annihilation
"Elvia Wilk's Oval is a marvel. At the core of this seductive, acute, superbly-contemporary update of mid-period J.G. Ballard lies a deep-beating, deep-dreaming heart." — Jonathan Lethem
About the Author
Elvia Wilk is a writer and editor living in New York and Berlin. She writes about art, architecture, and technology for several publications, including frieze, Artforum, e-flux, Metropolis, Mousse, Flash Art, Art in America, and Zeit Online.