Dystopian fiction seeks to illuminate the consequences of the bad choices we make today. Goodhouse follows in this tradition by extrapolating into the late 21st Century the intersection of two of America’s most troublesome present-day realities: our counterproductive criminal justice system, which does a great job training young people for lives of crime, and the hubris of a scientific community that seeks to predict human behavior by reading our DNA. As author Peyton Marshall reveals in the Acknowledgments, the “Goodhouse” where most of the action takes place in her novel is modeled on the notorious Preston Youth Correctional Facility, a juvenile rehabilitation center closed by the State of California only in 2011.
In Peyton Marshall’s dark-hued future America, the country is engaged in an endless war overseas while on the brink of civil war at home. On one side are the officials who maintain the nationwide network of Goodhouses, where young men tagged as having criminal tendencies are raised from an early age in draconian conditions sure to bring out the worst in them. (“There was no Goodhouse equivalent for girls. The same markers in women were not predictive of criminal behavior . . .”) On the other side are the revolutionary Zeros, who stage massive attacks to annihilate the Goodhouses and all those who live within them because “[t]hey wanted to purify, to cleanse. They didn’t believe in reforming us.”
The novel tells the story of “James Goodhouse” — his birth name and origins have been suppressed, like those of all his thousands of fellows — and the trajectory he follows from the equivalent of a low-security youth facility where he was a model citizen to what can only be described as a prison. The Goodhouse shelters a totalitarian mini-society where James is physically and psychologically abused by the former inmates now in positions of power over him.
When James is given a rare opportunity to leave the Goodhouse for a day, he meets Bethany, a gravely ill young woman who lives with her mother outside the walls in a home that represents an idyllic world for him. Their awkward relationship unfolds as James is increasingly dehumanized by the Goodhouse staff, and the violent clash between the system and the Zeros gathers force.
Goodhouse works — as a cautionary tale, a novel of suspense, and a compelling read.