{Review} Living Proof by Kira Peikoff

Living Proof, Kira Peikoff’s debut futuristic thriller, piqued my interest because it dealt with a near-future that seemed plausible and frightening. 

Set in New York City in 2027, destroying an embryo (say, for stem-cell research) is illegal and considered first degree murder. Similarly, pregnant women are monitored for any behavior that could be potentially unhealthy and a prosecuted for missing prenatal appointments or ingesting alcohol.

In this world, fertility clinics are big business, so there are many, many unused embryos in storage. Doctors are charged with preserving the embryos indefinitely and are subject to severe criminal prosecution if they are found to be negligent in their care of the embryos face prosecution while the separation of church and state has eroded almost completely, 

“I really think we are at a crucial fork in our history. The separation of church and state is breaking down all the time. First the line was blurring, and now it’s all but indistinct.” She swallowed the words that dangled from her tongue, threatening to expose her fury toward the DEFP and the DEP.

Arianna is a obstetrician with a secret—she has rapidly progressing multiple sclerosis and a connection to the radical scientific underground. Her only hope to avoid the always-fatal outcome of the type of MS she has is a stem-cell transplant, which scientists (including her father) had nearly perfected as a treatment prior to it becoming illegal. However, the Department of Embryo Preservation (DEP) is suspicious of her (they are unaware of her connection to her father’s work) because of the sudden popularity of the fertility clinic she operates, and they send in an undercover investigator (they are also motivated by threats to the department because they haven’t had a major bust in ages). 

That investigator is Trent, a former journalist know working for the DEP. He pretends to be interested in her… and, naturally, she falls for his act. Up until this point, Living Proof really grabbed me—the world seemed real and was interesting as hell. However, Arianna becomes interested in Trent really quickly, too quickly for someone who is, 

  1. Facing imminent death; and
  2. Managing an underground stem cell research laboratory.

Seems like Arianna has a lot on her plate, right?

Now, I’m not saying that simply because she’s ill she shouldn’t have a life—I loved The Fault in Our Stars, if you remember. But, what I’m arguing is that Trent earned her trust without actually earning it. 

The romance in Living Proof was weak, an afterthought, leaving me wondering as to its purpose.

The two characters had absolutely no chemistry.

“I understand,” he whispered. Then he leaned in and kissed her on the cheek. The moment was fast, just a hurried peck, but in that split second, the world condensed the way it always did when they were together and alone. 

Over and over again, Peikoff tells us that it’s so very special when Trent and Arianna are together. But I just never bought it—I never rooted for them to live happily ever after together, or even be happy for now.

It really felt as if Arianna and Trent fell in lurrrrrv simply because the happened to be handy companions. As much as I’m a sucker for a good love story, Living Proof could have been a much riskier novel if Trent had bought into Arianna’s cause because he believed in her because it was, to him, the right thing to do. Or, if he’d grown to respect her scientific mind. But, ultimately Trent buys into her cause and helps Arianna as a result of falling in love. 

Furthermore, in Peikoff’s futuristic United States, the rest of the world doesn’t exist, except when it’s convenient to the storyline. 

We learn early on that Arianna has traveled to Europe, so we’re not talking a future where movements are restricted. (Though they are monitored—everyone is tracked on public transit, for example—though, oddly/conveniently, people can still by anonymous Tracphones.) I kept wondering if scientific research continued in Europe or Canada. I just couldn’t believe that the entire world adopted the same politics as the United States.

And yet, this is never addressed. I know this sounds nitpicky, but it felt like something that was a big, giant, gaping hole in the story. I’ve read several other futuristic novels recently that explain what’s happening in the rest of the world and why people in the U.S. don’t have freedom of movement. 

The characters are very black and while, except Trent, whose thinking evolves. But still… 

Trent’s character development is so inconsistent, particularly early on, that at one point while reading, I speculated that he is internal conflict was a result of his not being nearly as intelligent as Peikoff kept saying he was. Despite this, I actually really liked Trent—he was a decent guy, wrestling with who he is and what he believes, despite my questioning his intelligence on a number of occasions.

The “bad guys” in Living Proof are essentially caricatures. Trent’s boss (one of the baddest bad guys), for example, is a political animal trying to save his department from budget cuts, is such a fanatic, it’s unbelievable. Trent’s parents are extremely rigid and weirdly naive. All of these characterizations felt very heavy-handed and uncomplicated. I suspect that I probably agree with Peikoff on the issue of stem cell research (it’s clear the point she’s trying to make with Living Proof), but I was extremely uncomfortable with what read like stereotypes of religious people. 

And, I was left wondering what happened to all of the moderate, mainstream religious folks in this future. Or where were groups such as the Quakers, Unitarians and Episcolpalians? Or the non-Christian, religious people? It seemed that the only religious beliefs remaining were evangelical Christians and Catholics. This was another hole that ultimately frustrated me and, if explained, could have made Living Proof a more nuanced, interesting work. 

Unfortunately, despite a promising premise (which I really enjoyed initially), Living Proof fell flat and devolved into a fairly typical thriller.

Too many questions about the world remained unaddressed and I never believed in Trent and Arianna as a couple. Therefore, the entirety of Living Proof’s success rested on the suspense aspect (which is well-paced and enjoyable). However, that simply wasn’t enough for me. As a result, I would only recommend Living Proof to readers who enjoy thrillers and want something which tackles a fresh topic, not to fans of futuristic/dystopian fiction. 

FNL Character Rating: Landry Clark in the first episode of season two. You know, the episode of which we shall not speak. 

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I received a copy of Living Proof from the publisher via Net Galley. No compensation or other “goodies” were received in exchange for this honest review.

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