[contain mild spoilers]

If you've seen the movie, you might think this book was dystopian fiction from the perspective of characters who are poised to disrupt the system. Suffice it to say, the actual structure of the book is more of a romance that incidentally takes place in a brutal and rapidly deteriorating fight club dictatorship.

I don't know precisely why they removed hints from the movie that the weird rot in society is recent – I suppose they thought it didn't matter – but it creates an absent hero. Someone, at some point, was running this authoritarian society in a much nicer way. Tomorrow, we'll talk about how weird that is, but in the mean time, it's worth pointing out this recurs so frequently in the book that it's essentially a core theme.

Many chapters begin with the time. There aren't big time jumps, for the most part, which makes it feel... as though our protagonist is paying very close attention to the passage of time. When you contrast this with the constant comparisons to the not-too-distant past, it gives a weird feeling. Maybe a sense of urgency? The main character doesn't have a goal beyond their immediate circumstances for most of the story (which isn't too unusual, the midpoint generally has some inciting incident that pulls people out of equilibrium), and there are decently high stakes along the way. I think it's a good way to subtly (or not-so-subtly, in some cases) draw your focus to that larger context, but it could also be a nervous tick of the author, or a tick she imagined in the main character, who remarks explicitly about the passage of time enough to be noticeable.

There's also a pretty good thematic focus on the freedom of brutal wildness, particularly through the lens of dogs. For a story that contains no actual dogs, they are mentioned constantly. The whole society lives in a pen, and the police force are the ones running around outside. Then there's this weird bird symbolism, which I can't quite say is consistent enough to read, but might be something about a greater freedom, real control over your life, the dangers and hope of it, I don't know. The book doesn't seem to care much about birds despite, again, talking about them quite a lot without ever seeing them.

I know this discussion of craft in terms of relatively obvious metaphors sounds like I filled out a seventh grade homework assignment or something, but the book truly is constructed in a way that make the symbolism seem intentional and almost explicit. Maybe I don't read enough popular fiction, but something about that is a little grating. I'm not sure the author trusts me to come to the right conclusions about totalitarian police states and the like. Well, it turns out a system that has strong anti-family norms comes across as pretty cult-y and villainous, so they didn't have to worry so much. There might be some teenage independence fantasy appeal I'm missing, but the book also contains someone getting stabbed in the eye for no reason. That's just about as subtle as it gets – this system might seem cool, but also your eye gets stabbed.

Of course, even the themes are just in service of a larger, presumably didactic message, and that's what we'll talk about in the third and final part, tomorrow.