Try to imagine a book that mostly takes place in a waiting line. Hersey does it with this marvelous tale. It is the near future, when couples have to apply to have a child, and are allowed only one. (Patriotic teen males can agree to get a vasectomy.) Personal space for individuals is limited to an 8x12-foot painted square in a large warehouse dorm, and the only area in New Haven with grass and trees is walled off -- the mayor gets to mow it but others can only look at it through a window after waiting long hours in line. Thirty-seven-year-old Sam Poynter, who writes reports and is getting divorced, is in a line, four abreast, to get to the petition windows where he will ask the authorities for the unheard-of favor of a slightly larger living space. Crushed around him are people petitioning for more protein, to change their residence or job, to get Havana cigars, to have a child. An elderly woman is petitioning to have her dear grandson not to be taught to read, so he can learn something more useful. Moving a block every 15-20 minutes for several hours, Sam grows to like some of the strangers around him (especially the young blonde in the blue dress against whom he is pressed from behind, who seems to respond to his verbal and physical overtures) and dislikes others. A woman faints and is passed over heads; several people suffer "line sickness" and go screaming mad. An unhappy gent starts up a chant to get Sam thrown out of line. Like Hersey's earlier science fiction novel, _The Child Buyer_, this 1974 story wraps considerable humor within a chilling and depressing overcoat.
This report prepared by David Loftus