Bliss by Lisa Henry & Heidi Belleau
Source: Review by Request
Publisher Provided Copy
My Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
They’re always happy.
Rory James has worked hard all his life to become a citizen of the idyllic city-state of Beulah. Like every other kid born in the neighboring country of Tophet, he’s heard the stories: No crime or pollution. A house and food for everyone. It’s perfect, and Rory is finally getting a piece of it.
So is Tate Patterson. He’s from Tophet, too, but he’s not a legal immigrant; he snuck in as a thief. A city without crime seems like an easy score, until he crashes into Rory during a getaway and is arrested for assaulting a citizen. Instead of jail, Tate is enrolled in Beulah’s Rehabilitation through Restitution program. By living with and serving his victim for seven years, Tate will learn the human face of his crimes.
If it seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. Tate is fitted with a behavior-modifying chip that leaves him unable to disobey orders—any orders, no matter how dehumanizing. Worse, the chip prevents him from telling Rory, the one man in all of Beulah who might care about him, the truth: in a country without prisons, Tate is locked inside his own mind.
Buy this book:
Creepy – beautifully written – absolutely gripping!
“…You send a man to prison once and chances are he’ll go there again and again. Prisons and punishments create criminals; they don’t deter them. But you give him a chance to rehabilitate himself in a meaningful way and everyone wins. You do, he does, and so does society as a whole…”
Sounds good on the surface. Which is just like the town of Beulah – Perfection to the naked eye… But there’s a darkness lurking in Beulah, unseen to outsiders and even the general population within…
On its face, Beulah is a Utopian society in the middle of a nation overrun with crime. The air is clean; the lawns are lush and green. There’s free healthcare, education, and the citizens are friendly… Which is precisely why Rory applied for a position within the protected walls of Beulah.
It was a little… nice. Yes. Safer to go with nice than with weird. Maybe it was a cultural thing. Maybe people here were just… happier.
Rory spent his years growing up in the putrid city of Tophet – he struggled to keep safe, feed himself, and put himself through college – now all that hard work is paying off. He got himself a job in beautiful Beulah working as an assistant for Chief Justice Jericho Lowel – the perfect job, with the perfect boss, provided with the perfect little house, in the perfect town…
Rory was barely off the train when his perfect experience is ruined by a surprise punch to the face. Rory’s rude welcome to the idyllic community is headline news for a town with no crime.
There hasn’t been a trial in Beulah in nearly a decade. Criminals are urged to take a plea deal and agree to “Rehabilitation through Restitution” – the program places the criminal into the home of the person they’ve victimized. The victim helps to rehabilitate their fellow citizen as they perform restitution labor for a period of seven years.
Sponsors don’t have to worry about living in close proximity of their “rezzy” though. All prisoners are implanted with a microchip which tracks them using GPS and ensures that they are non-violent. Sounds perfectly reasonable, right? Rory thought so too…
The chip wants to make me forget the truth. Never tell you the truth. Never make you unhappy. Never break its control. I have to lie.
Tate thought that Beulah would be an easy mark – a town without crime is a town without security or prisons. He thought he could sneak in, steal enough to cover his debts, and then sneak back out. He didn’t count on the random search at the train depot. He was running from the cops and tried to cause a distraction by punching the stranger standing on the platform.
Tate is given a choice: Go to trial and face a life sentence of indentured servitude if found guilty, or take the plea deal and serve seven little years in beautiful Beulah.
He didn’t really have a choice when faced with the evidence piled against him. He took the plea deal and tried to prepare himself for the idea of Restitution. He wasn’t counting on the chip, though…
“Just a little chip. Goes it the back of your neck and turns you into a nice boy.”
The true purpose of the chip is kept secret for the residents of Beulah. It compels the prisoner to please their master in any way necessary. A skull-splitting pain is the reward granted by the chip to any prisoner who fails to secure their Master’s approval at all times.
So yeah… Behavior Modification Chips + A Prisoner who desperately needs to please his Master = Some serious non-consent.
It was terrifying to see the inner-monologue of Tate as he was fighting with the chip’s programming… He’s struggling to remember who he is. He knows that he doesn’t want what’s happening him, but he is completely powerless to stop it.
It was somehow even creepier to see things through the POV of Rory – who has no idea that his “rezzy” has a modification chip… He’s a good person who is trying to acclimate to this strange new society, and he begins to genuinely care for Tate…
Poor Tate, who is locked in his own mind, slowly losing himself to the programming of the chip.
“How did that feel? Be honest.”
The words were out of his mouth before he could stop himself. “I hate it. I want more.”
This is the kind of book which leaves you in a haze long after you’ve finished. It is certainly not for the faint of heart.
Dear readers, sometimes I tell you that a book has certain situations which you might find objectionable. That is not the case with this book – the entire premise of Bliss is carefully crafted to push you out of your comfort zone.
You already know if you can handle this book. If you’re the type of person who relishes the darkness looming within the pages of a book – I recommend you rush out and buy this book immediately. You will not be disappointed!
Tate wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do to “settle in.” He didn’t have any personal items to set up, didn’t have any clothes beyond a series of plain gray scrubs that they’d given him at the induction center. At least they weren’t prison uniforms. He put them in the dresser anyway and then sat on the end of the narrow bed.
He could hear his new master—Rory, the man wanted to be called Rory—muddling around in the kitchen.
Rory made him uneasy. He wasn’t like the doctor, or the guards, or even his lawyer. He didn’t ask questions. Didn’t give orders. Didn’t really show Tate his place at all. It left him unsettled, unanchored, and a little nauseated. He seemed nice enough, but nice wasn’t what Tate needed right now. He needed directions and orders, and for the man to put him in his place, where he belonged. He wanted to be back with the doctor. The doctor who’d made him do such terrible, wonderful things, and then praised him for them.
Tate curled his hands into fists and squeezed his eyes shut.
His head hurt. A weird, crawling feeling at the back of his skull that he wasn’t sure how to fix.
“Now, if your head hurts, it’s because you’re not doing something right. You’re thinking the wrong things or you’re doing the wrong thing or there’s something you ought to be doing that you’re not.”
If he could do something, that might make it better, but he was “settling in.”
He stood up again, opened the dresser, and pulled all his shirts out. He shook them, refolded them, and put them back again. For a moment, the tension in his head eased, but then it was back, as bad as before.
Guilt bit at him.
How could he have hurt that man? Rory, his master.
And now he was sitting here, letting the man cook for him?
He felt ill. His stomach roiled and his joints ached, and oh God, he needed to do something. Because the longer he stayed in this room, the longer he did nothing to appease the guilt gnawing at his gut, the more and more unsettled he felt. Chills shuddered through him until his teeth chattered. He wrapped his arms around himself and clambered to his feet. The kitchen. He could clean the kitchen.
He felt better now that he had a plan. Felt less . . . scattered, on edge. The prickling need faded, like a hunger slowly easing under the promise to feed it. The discomfort was good. It would remind him to work hard, to do the right thing. To serve and to repay.
He left his room.
In the kitchen, Rory had made a mess. Noodles and sauce were splattered all over the countertop, trailing from the now-empty takeout containers to the microwave. Rory was leaning against the counter, watching the timer.
“I can clean,” Tate said nervously.
“Shit!” Rory started. Color rose in his cheeks. “Sorry, I didn’t see you there.”
“I can clean,” he repeated.
Rory opened his mouth, then closed it again. He stared at Tate for a moment. “Look,” he began at last. The timer on the microwave beeped. Rory sighed. “Just come and eat something, okay? Do you like chow mein?”
“I like . . .”
I like whatever you want me to like.
Help me, please.
The words were trapped inside Tate’s head. He wanted to say them, wanted to push them out, but God, they’d hurt. They’d rip his head apart. He didn’t want them in there at all, but speaking them wouldn’t make it better. He wanted them to go away. He wanted them to have never existed in the first place. He wanted to be helpful, useful, to be happy.
“I like chow mein.”
Rory took the takeout container out of the microwave. He set it on the counter while he got a couple of plates from the cupboard. Split the food evenly between both.
Tate worriedly watched him.
He doesn’t like you.
How could he? Tate had hurt him. Busted his nose and gave him those bruises and hurt him. Earning his master’s praise would be harder than earning the doctor’s or the guards’. Tate had never injured them. They only knew how bad he was from reading his reports. They’d never seen it, never felt it.
Rory slid a plate toward him, along with a fork. “Eat.” He sighed and touched the purpled bridge of his nose. “Please. And stop staring at me like that. You’re freaking me out.”
“I’m sorry!” Tate said, his voice rising in desperation. He immediately averted his eyes. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. I didn’t mean to. I won’t look at you anymore.”
“And stop fucking apologizing!”
Tate froze, hunching over. Nausea rose in him.
“Look. Just—” Rory made a sound of frustration. “I’m just going to come out and say it: I’m uncomfortable with this whole arrangement. Because you hit me, remember? Remember that?”
“Yes,” Tate managed, fighting the urge to be sick. He blinked away hot tears. “I remember.”
“I’m going to do my best to make this work, but I’m not naive.” Rory’s voice was calmer. “Like I said, I’m from the outside too.”
The outside. Tophet. Tate could remember it . . . but he couldn’t. He could picture it, but he couldn’t feel it. As though every image he held of the place was as impersonal as if he were watching a documentary or reading a newspaper article. The slum housing he lived in. His clothes shoved in a box in the moldy cupboard. The bathroom down the hall where all the taps leaked. The water stain on the wall that grew every month. The syringes in the hallway.
“You think you can look after Emmy? Here?”
“I can do a better fucking job than you!”
He could, too. He had, when he’d needed to. When Paula was so fucked up, either high or coming down, that someone had to.
“You think you’re better than me?”
He’d laughed at that. Laughed. Of course he was better than her.
But now, with those words skittering around the edges of his consciousness, Tate didn’t understand it. He knew those people were in his memory, but he couldn’t feel them. Just words, recalled at random, with no context. The only thing that mattered was here, now, the man standing right in front of him.
“I don’t think you’re naive,” he said, softly. “I just want . . .”
I want you to give me orders. Make this pain and confusion stop.
Rory watched him sternly, but there was a little bit of softness in him too. Between his eyebrows maybe, where the angry curve smoothed into something sympathetic. “So just cut the bullshit, okay? If you do that, then maybe we can actually make this work.”
“I want it to work,” he said. “I do. I want to work for you. I want you to be happy with me.”
No, not wanted. Needed. But Rory didn’t understand that.
Tell him. Tell him what they fucking did.
Pain bit at him; the words wouldn’t come. Tate dropped his gaze again, his heart beating fast.
“Okay,” Rory said, quiet, still a little wary. “So let’s eat our dinner and try to figure out how we do this, yeah?”
“Yes.” Tate sighed with relief. At last, a direction he could follow.
They ate in the open-plan living room, at the small table there. Tate wasn’t hungry, but he ate because Rory had told him to, and tried to remember everything he’d learned at the facility. About being on his best behavior. About being invisible until he was needed. About being quiet and neat and clean. About anticipating his master’s needs. About obeying commands. And especially about how those were the only things that could make him happy.
“Can you cook?” Rory asked him.
“I . . .” He hesitated. He didn’t want to lie to his master. “Some things, I can. Easy things. But I will learn the rest.”
Rory wrinkled his nose. “What about gardening?”
“I’ve never done it,” he said.
Rory almost smiled at that. “Me neither. Never thought I’d have a garden.”
Tate didn’t, either. Everything was pavement back in Tophet. And that was if you were lucky enough to live in a place with a yard instead of in the overcrowded apartment blocks.
Nothing green or growing. The idea of being allowed to tend a garden was intoxicating. Not just because he would be serving Rory but because a garden was a luxury, a reward all its own. An undeserved reward. “Maybe,” Tate began hesitantly, “maybe there are books about how to do it?”
This time Rory did smile; the question pleased him. “I’ll see what I can find on my way home from work tomorrow.”
Tate sighed, hoping he’d found his footing at last. “Thank you.”