The Blinds: Adam Sternbergh

“Everything that happened to you before you got here has either been forgotten or is better off forgotten.”

Adam Sternbergh’s book The Blinds is set in a remote bleached-out, dusty town called Caesura– a fenced area in Kettle County, Texas, “the third least populous county” in America. Caesura, a secret facility created by the Justice Department and maintained by the murky Fell Corporation, does not exist on any map or census, but its existence is the subject of internet speculation–“chatter of secret government camps and black helicopters, mind experiments and covert crackdowns.” The town is set inside a perimeter fence. There’s no hospital, no school, but then only one child lives there. There’s a rundown-trailer for the sheriff, a structure that serves as a bar, and a small library for those who can muster the energy to read. The town is run on a cash-less basis, but there’s a commissary, which has groceries delivered once a week, and a laundromat. There’s no internet, no phones, and only two cars–the sheriff’s pickup and another in case of emergencies.  The residents can leave if they want, but they do so at their own peril. It’s well known that a woman left with her son some years ago, and it didn’t end well.

The Blinds

So who lives in this sunbleached hellhole? Who are the residents of Caesura or the Blinds as it is otherwise known?

She looks over the surrounding blocks of homes with their identical cinderblock bungalows, each with the same slightly elevated wooden porch, the same scrubby patch of modest yard. Some people here maintain the pretense of giving a shit, planting flowers, mowing grass, keeping their porches swept clean, while others let it all grow wild and just wait for whatever’s coming next. 

The residents are a blend of career criminals, the worst sort of scum–hired killers, serial killers, epic child molesters and even a few ‘innocents’ as they are called who were offered a way out for certain testimony. Instead of going into the Witness Protection programme, they disappeared, with new names, into Caesura, but only after having their memories wiped by The Fell Corporation. Over the years, and Caesura’s been in existence for eight years now, the memory wipe has been perfected.

He remembers something vaguely, as a kid, with his dad, in a dusty basement, with small windows, and the sound of tools clattering, but that’s where his memory gets ragged. Orson’s case, the doctors told him before he entered the town, was a deep dive; the relevant memories required something like a root canal for his brain. Plus he was one of the early ones, the original eight, back before they’d perfected the precision of the technique. Some of the newer people, they remember almost everything–childhoods, first crushes, wives, kids–except for the part of their lives they chose to forget.  With Orson, they scoured most of his memories, just to be sure.

So here you have a town full of vicious killers whose memories of their past mis-deeds have been wiped away. What can possibly go wrong?

That’s what happens when you wipe out a big chunk of a person’s memories: Fear breeds in the empty space that’s left behind.

Caesura, with its community of memory wiped villains has run smoothly for the past eight years, but cracks begin to appear. One resident commits suicide, and while the act itself isn’t a shocker, it’s the fact that a gun was used that is unsettling since “theoretically at least,” Sheriff Cooper is the only one who is supposed to have a gun. Then Cooper’s long-term deputy left in a hurry after the suicide, and he’s been replaced by Dawes, a woman who begins digging into loose ends. ….

Sheriff Cooper, the story’s anti-hero, is laid back and laconic, a style which causes him to project a lazy mind, but in reality he has the perfect temperament to run this hellhole. His temperament also matches the plot which unfolds layer upon layer.

Now he stands at a remove from the body in question, studying the scene with the weary air of a man who’s returned from  particularly tedious errand to find that his car’s been keyed.

To say more about the plot would ruin this book for others. I’ll add that Sternbergh’s style meshes perfectly with this dark tale that is creative and yet also oddly possible at the same time. The Blinds has to be one of the most unusual, interesting and creative books I’ve read this year. There are a couple of loose ends at the end of the story, but that’s relatively minor. It’s not often I come across a book and find myself thinking ‘this is really different,’ but Sternbergh created something new and plausible here.

Someone…. please… option this book for a television series

Review copy

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16 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Sternbergh Adam

16 responses to “The Blinds: Adam Sternbergh

  1. I’ve just started Anthony O’Neill’s The Dark Side, which has the same setup – on the Moon!

  2. Oh, that is seriously creepy!

  3. It does sound different, an intriguing premise indeed. Who would you like to see as Sheriff Cooper in the TV series? It could be a very interesting role for the right actor…

  4. Pat

    Hi Guy, an interesting write up, I guess the question this set up would lead me into delving into would be the nature or nurture debate, minds wiped of the event and what lead up to it, a new life and then murdering could be interpreted as nature not nurture. But then if there was only one example? The author would need to have multiple killers to support a nature not nurture approach.
    Well I haven’t read the book but these would be the ideas I would imagine could be developed.

    • I wondered about child molesters. So the memories are wiped clean but what about urges? Wouldn’t the truth occur to child molesters over time?

      • Pat

        Are certain humans born child molesters? Is there a gene? If your grand father and then your father were molesters? I’m pretty sure this is only proof of nurture. But with whatever lifelong trauma at the root of being a child molester just how much memory would you need to destroy? Roots are a good example, a simple weed: not easy but you can get the whole root, rhizomes: their roots can take over a whole garden.
        So if the truth occurred to child molesters over time would this be due to the imperfect memory wipe? Is the trauma creating the molester and then from their acts beyond just a memory thing? A part of our reptile memory? I don’t know if The Blinds went into all of this but there subject matter there

        • No the book didn’t go into that although it’s something I thought about. My main question was if you were a child molester and the memory of those acts were wiped out, wouldn’t the tendency remain. It’s just a niggling question I had since there was one child at Caesura. I asked myself if child molesters would look at the boy, and then have impulses.

          If someone were molested in early childhood by a parent/relative and then they grew up to become a molester themselves, I’m not sure how a memory wipe would work unless you wiped it in its entirety.
          Some people’s memories had more missing than remaining– the “deep dive” referred to in one of the quotes.
          All “technical” questions.

  5. What an original idea for a book! the possibilities are endless and your enthusiasm quite contagious.

  6. Agreed – sounds interesting. Sounds like a heavier-duty J Robert Lennon setup. Thanks for the tip, I’ll look for it.

  7. Sounds very interesting. Almost dystopian.

    • It really is good. I went back to look at the author’s backlist. He’s written two ‘Shovelman’ novels which are dystopian. I won’t be reading them, I don’t think, as I don’t like the style.

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