The Plot Thickens: Companion Piece

Given all that’s going on today from current events, to new entertainment, to the conversations we have about them on social media, it seems like the common thing everyone seeks is reassurance. Reassurance that life is continuing during a global pandemic that continues to take the lives of so many. Reassurance that many of us still living are taking all the precautions we can to prevent spread. Reassurance for others that their choice to ignore precaution is equally warranted. This is the most dastardly of reassurances as in one case I’ve witnessed, a TikTok user posted a video where she highlighted a food conspiracy wherein for the past few years food has purposefully been made tasteless—yet, no one is talking about it. Even worse, the comment section is full of people reassuring her that they’ve noticed this conspiracy against tasty food, too. Very few state the obvious, the science, the proclamation that all of these people are suffering from the effects of COVID-19.

In Ali Smith’s Seasonal Quartet, each book explores facets of modern life with a lens towards what used to be, which helps explain components of the dynamics we see today but are also stories with a limited, often intangible touch on the contemporary portion of the book. Smith balances topics like caregiving, Brexit, immigration, and quarantine during COVID-19 by tying them either to direct character experiences that occurred in the past—in one case during World War II—or linking the main plotline with an event in the same present-day location years, even centuries, ago. Companion Piece extends this concept in a slightly smaller entry to the series. In this latest entry we witness a similar consideration with a character whose tumultuous life falls into a tailspin when their father needs treatment after a major heart attack. Their life is even more upended when distant figures from the past insert themselves into their life which is initially tolerable but soon gets out of hand. These figures seem to want the same thing the main character—and all of us—want: validation. Through the course of the novel we see each character make choices based on personal moral codes which lead them to seek outside justification when the ones they live with refuse to provide them the support they feel entitled to. As this all takes place in the present-day with so many of us still considerate of how to stave off additional spread of the coronavirus, much of this movement stirs up anxieties about how we’ve responded to each other during this time.

So much of where we are as a populace has been reflected to us in the COVID-19 response that it’s hard to imagine a future where we can all agree on decisions, let alone our metrics for them. If we are to believe the peer-reviewed scientists, then why haven’t we adhered to their proposed protocols for the virus across the board? Why hasn’t that brought about more executive action with climate science? Can we honestly see a future for humanity on a ruined and desolate Earth? At times when it is hard to imagine the future, we find comfort in a shared present. Companion Piece shows how ridiculous it is to be human, holding on to the most destructive of actions, all in the hopes that someone who seems to have a better grasp on it all can address our deepest desires while also pleasing everyone. 

*BGC kindly thanks the teams at Patheon Books and Penguin Random House for early access to this book.*