Novel: The Collector by Laura Kat Young

Laura Kat Young’s The Collector (2023) is an off-the-board selection: a subdued tale of surreal horror by an author with whom I’m completely unfamiliar. Often these impulse picks pay off, though, and that’s the case again in this Kafkaesque chiller. The Collector involves Lieutenant Dev Singh, who works in a nebulous organization known as “the Bureau.” Dev’s job is to pay house-calls in his community and record the memories of the “struck,” citizens who have been afflicted by uncontrollable depression. In order to cure their condition, the struck have their memories erased to restore them as productive members of society; before they are “reset,” their cherished life experiences are noted for posterity. Dev is one of the Bureau’s best and brightest; indeed, he has an unparalleled string of “Collector of the Year” awards from his colleagues. But the work takes its toll, and while Dev maintains a passable façade of strength amidst his friends and colleagues, he worries that he too may be on the verge of falling prety to a society-defining mental illness.

The Collector is a low-key affair, but that’s appropriate to its murky core metaphor, which is executed with dark insight—reminiscent in some ways of Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police. Our own society’s ruthless lack of empathy for mental health issues is reflected powerfully in Young’s eerie, cold community driven by unfeeling administrative forces. The narrative lacks energy at times, and the final moment is not particularly surprising, but overall The Collector taps powerfully into the sense of collective trauma, grief, and struggle many of us have been experiencing since COVID.

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