* Dystopian *
Author: Pattie Palmer-Baker
Publisher: Del Sol Press
MALL is a sparkling alternate world where everyone is beautiful,
employed with enough income to consume and to experience a myriad of
pleasures including drugs, gambling, theater, holographic adventures. No
poverty and little or no crime. A lot of sex.
But what about the Mall Code? And what happens when Sara, a 21st
century woman, accidentally finds her way into this alien yet familiar
world? Nona, a MALL mental health practitioner treats Sara upon her
arrival and goes against the Code to help her acclimate. Sara seems to
be just what she needs, an antidote to Nona’s secret and growing
At first Sara desperately wants to get home, and, as she seeks a way
out as well as answers about her new reality, Nona begins to see MALL in
a new light. Is abundant gratification enough?
Things aren’t all beauty and pleasure. Sara experiences dancing in a
dangerous orgiastic dance club on a lower level. She attends a gambling
session where people bet on living more years when their “number’s up”
and a “passing ceremony,” where Mallites are supposedly resurrected into a new life.
Junkers, outsiders lurking on the fringes of MALL, have been fighting
Mall Management’s control by creating increasingly dangerous
disturbances. For years they have struggled to discover an exit, based
on rumors of those who made it Outside and were never heard from again.
Through them Sara and Nona meet someone who might help them escape. They
both must make the choice that will change their lives forever.
Who will risk leaving and who will decide to stay?
MALL by Pattie Palmer-Baker was recently published by Del Sol Press and winner of the Del Sol Press Most Promising Book, 2017.
Mall, a Novel in Search for an Author
The last thing I wanted to do was write a novel.
I love reading works about alternative worlds. I imagine realities where animals can talk or people can read minds or aging happens in reverse – things like that. Then one day, about twenty years ago when malls were still thriving, I wondered what would it be like if everyone lived in malls. (I loved shopping). Would people live in apartments scattered among the shops? Or on separate floors? What would they do all day? How would they be employed? I imagined all kinds of things which dissolved in my unorganized brain, so I began to write my ideas. A novel started to form, one that I would abandon to work on my artwork or poetry, sometimes for years, and then come back to it. Writing seemed to be the only way I could keep track and expand this concept.
As time went on, I cast aside the idea of numerous malls in favor of one giant Mall, a closed system in response to a cataclysmic event. Because our malls were the foundation of Mall, the goals of shoppers in our time became the goals of the residents, called Mallites, such as the desire to be beautiful with gorgeous clothes. No problem. In Mall, almost everyone is gorgeous with attire beyond your dreams. Not enough to do? Not so in Mall, a place with a myriad of amusements including nonaddictive drugs, a lot of sex and all kinds of virtual reality entertainment. What about not being able to afford what’s for sale? No need to worry. Poverty doesn’t exist, nor does unemployment so everyone can purchase what they want. In fact, the Mall Code demands everyone must consume heavily.
Mall is a world where the purpose of life is to pursue pleasure. No suffering. How could that be achieved? How would they eliminate emotional pain? In the early days of Mall, the Mall Fathers decided that the root of all psychic pain was close relationships. When devising the Mall Code, they forbade intimacy and created countless kinds of amusement. Pleasure, they believed would be enough, along with long lives (for some), and no poverty or crime.
While I was creating this alternative world, something else bubbled to the surface. Where did this idea of no deep attachments come from? Actually, not really surprising considering that for twenty-five years, I worked as a counselor and had seen firsthand how much people suffer over failed or conflicted relationships.
But what would a world be like where deep friendships and romantic love were forbidden? Would guaranteed employment and endless pleasure be enough? Maybe not for everyone. Nona, a Mental Health Practitioner secretly feels empty and bored. Then Sara, a woman from our world somehow enters Mall. Not surprisingly, she freaks out. When Mall Guards witness her uncontrollable actions, they bring her to Nona. Sara’s outlandish beliefs and emotional outbursts electrify Nona. As time goes on, Nona learns about feelings, about friendship, about taking risks. On the other hand, Sara, who suffers from a troubled marriage and a difficult childhood, finds the lifestyle tempting. Not at first, but over time her commitment to return home weakens. She is overjoyed when Mall plastic surgeons make her beautiful. Without any pain! What else? Fun, adventure, an amusing job and handsome men everywhere.
The more Nona does to help Sara pass as a Mallite, the more danger they encounter. Like involvement with the shadowy rebel group, the Junkers.
Junkers want to be free of Mall Management’s control, and many of them want out. Impossible in this closed world? Maybe not. Could they help Sara find her way home? Does she even want to? How about Nona disillusioned by her once flat and boring existence and in trouble with the authorities?
Would you want to go home? Or would you want to stay in this supposed Shangri la?
What a suspenseful journey Mall was—a real “page-turner”-
imaginative with firm command of psychological expression and dialogue!
Pattie Palmer-Baker captures some of the sexual contradictions,
insecurities, and darker motivations of her female characters, and the
complex relationships between women. The “surface” allusions to sex and
violence throughout the story line work well with the superficial world
she describes. Sex all the time—and yet, really, not much explicit
writing about actual sexual encounters—the same for violence. This
tension of content and form works well for me. What gives pleasure? What
gives pain? The many hallways and mirrored rooms give the setting a
creepy fun-house effect and increase the sense of a closed world and
claustrophobic doom. Her descriptions of the Mallites’ physical
appearances and their individual choice of costume in this strange place
is creative—a breath of lightness in this frank examination of our
quandary about the meaning of freedom in an existential existence. What is real? I was “on the run” with Sara for the entire read! And what a turn at the end!
— Cathy Cain, Portland poet and artist
clear, Natalie: are you saying that you’re having sex with this man more often
than the Code dictates unless pair-bonded?” Nona asked, fidgeting slightly.
“Sometimes. The sex is good, but that’s not why I seek out his company. I can’t
find the words to …”
Was Natalie trying to say the sex was not good enough to pair-bond? If that
were the case, any Mental Health Practitioner would know how to remedy it. If
Natalie’s actions weren’t against Mall’s Code, Nona would interrupt and tell
her. Surprisingly, this restriction pressed on her in an unfamiliar manner, a
physical pressure in the area just above her stomach, like the sting she
sometimes felt when she adminned a dart. But relief would have to wait.
almost a whisper. “You won’t tell, will you? That we have sex secretly? Or that
we meet to talk in one of our quarters?”
anything you say in here is protected by client/patient confidentiality. May I
ask why you meet in your rooms when that also is expressly forbidden?”
anything I say to you?”
even if I wanted to, Mental Health Practitioners cannot.”
well, to talk about what he believes is wrong with Mall.” She paused to search
Nona’s face. “Okay, I’ll tell you the part that you can never tell: he’s a
silence. Never before had any of her clients divulged such a shocking fact.
Before she could speak, as suddenly as it had been happening so often in the
last few weeks, the lights went out. “I do apologize. You probably have also
experienced this annoying event too many times. Usually the lights go…” Light
flooded the room at that moment. “See, no harm done, and I will add two extra
minutes to your session.” Nona inched up in her chair to look more closely at
Natalie. “I confess that I am taken aback by your admission that you’ve been
meeting with a Junker. Of course, I will not reveal this, but I can’t
understand why. We all know that Junkers are causing the disturbances occurring
throughout Mall. How do you feel about pursuing this strange relationship with
someone who belongs to this group?”
not so much that … Oh I don’t know what to do!” She wrung her hands and
lowered her head.
wanted to revitalize all kinds of things, from virtual reality rock climbing to
interactive story creation and, most often, sexual experiences. Except for
Natalie, the complaint was the same for everyone: the experience lacked
novelty, and the client wanted to rekindle the thrill. And strange, wasn’t it,
that the boredom Nona felt when she listened to the repetitive and stale
grievances was for her a symptom of the same problem? The only subject she did
find interesting was clients’ fear of death, but most refused to discuss it in
much detail. All she had to go on was body language—those subtle, involuntary
physiological effects revealing intense discomfort. If only she could persuade
them to go into detail, but that, too, would be against the Code. Never
insist that someone talk about a subject that would make the speaker
uncomfortable, and that even included Mental Health Practitioners. She
certainly did not feel bored with Natalie. Excited and, yes, a little scared.
Not only did Natalie know a Junker, she had a relationship with him. What
should she do? She wished she could discuss with her colleague and former
startling her out of her train of thoughts. Natalie gasped, rising from her
chair. “God of Reincarnation, am I in trouble?” She fell back into her chair
when the door slid open and a black-and-silver uniformed man strode in.
here?” Nona asked, stepping back. She seldom encountered a Finance Policeman.
a Mall Management meeting,” he announced in a deep, authoritarian voice.
confused—why me? Mental Health Practitioners never attend those meetings.”
subject of their meetings. Even if I did know, I would not divulge it.”
reassure him. “I have never been to Level 100, so please, can you tell me when
and where to go?”
accompany you at the appointed time.” He spun around and out the door.
Reincarnation, I thought somehow you had alerted the Finance Police about my
cannot. Please continue.”
about.” Natalie looked over at the door. “I’m afraid for my friend …”
friend. Do you have a heart- friend contract with him?”
talk about this anymore.”
anything else to discuss? Our meeting is drawing to a close.”
letting Stan know because I earned the extra credit …”
meeting she was summoned to? Was it about the disturbances? Just the other day
her office went dark twice, both times during sessions, and one of the
blackouts lasted a half hour. The next words out of Natalie’s mouth snagged her
red-mailed me into keeping silent about her creative theft in trade for her not
revealing that Code violation. To make it worse, she overheard him tell me
before entering my room the date for the Junker’s next meeting. He wanted me to
help her? “I, as your Mental Health Practitioner, would not want you to take
such a risk. If you are experiencing curiosity, I can prescribe something that
will eliminate that undesirable feeling—have you heard of the new pharm,
Freedomfrum?” Before she could stop herself, Nona asked, “Did your friend tell
you where the meeting would be?”
don’t need it. It’s not exactly curiosity. I just can’t explain it. I do have
an idea where they’ll meet: somewhere on one of the lower Levels.” She raised
her head abruptly. “Why do you want to know?”
be a proper Mallite and report this meeting? No, that wasn’t it. She couldn’t,
anyway. Did she want to meet a Junker? Was that what she really wanted? No one
knew who they were or where they met. What was this unusual tenseness she was
feeling? Strangely, it was not unpleasant. The chance to talk with a Junker
excited her—that was it—a feeling she had not experienced for a very long time.
a loud voice announcing, “Mall Emergency! You are the MHP on call. Guards will
contact you in thirty seconds.” Nona stood abruptly and said, “Please excuse
me, Natalie; it would be best if you left at once. We can schedule another
immediately,” Natalie said, voice shaking. She scurried to the opening door and
Her artwork has been exhibited in galleries throughout the Pacific
Northwest. Locally and nationally she has won numerous awards for her
art and poetry.
An accomplished poet, Pattie had been nominated for the Pushcart
Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared in many journals including Calyx,
Voicecatcher, Military Experience the Arts, Minerva Rising and Phantom
Drift. In 2017 she earned first prize in the Write to Publish contest,
and in 2019 she won first, second, and the Bivona prize in the Ageless
Poetry contest. She has served as the poetry co-editor for VoiceCatcher: a journal of women’s voices and visions.
Del Sol Press awarded MALL first prize for the most promising first novel in 2017.
Pattie lives in Portland, Oregon with her beloved husband and rescued dachshund.
Her website is www.pattiepalmerbaker.com/.
You can follow her at Facebook at https://tinyurl.com/yykrz36e.