In the future depicted in Kelley Eskridge's new novel, Solitaire, people grow up in a peer group known as a web. Those born on the cusp of a certain new year are known as hopes. When the hopes turn 23, they take their place in the EarthGov, symbolically leading the world into the bright and wonderful future. Jackal is the hope of Ko, a corporation that has almost achieved statehood. For the first 22 years of her life, Jackal has been aware of the thousands of people watching her, aware of their expectations; she is their hope.

Solitaire is the first novel from Eskridge, who has produced a series of sharp, well-thought-out short stories during the last decade. Her writing is sure and well-crafted, never letting the reader become complacent as the tale unfolds.

Despite Jackal's advanced training in government work, she senses that something is wrong and her future is in jeopardy. When trouble finally comes, it is an order of magnitude higher than anything she imagined. Framed for a crime, she is sentenced to 40 years in prison and then offered a last-minute deal. There is a new form of punishment: virtual confinement. Prisoners are trapped in a virtual reality prison inside their own heads where time passes faster than in the outside world. Instead of 40 years in prison, Jackal can spend eight years in virtual confinement which will take only 10 months of real time. Not surprisingly, she accepts the deal and is stuck inside her own head for a very long time.

This is where Eskridge's story takes off. What could have been a retread of every prison memoir, novel and film, is instead the emotional center of the book. In solitude, there is nowhere to hide, and Jackal is forced to face herself again and again, exploring her connections to the world, her family and friends.

Solitaire is a novel of our time: a story of dashed expectations and corporate manipulations. Eskridge explores what it means to really see ourselves, and what we are ultimately capable of. Jackal, a slight adolescent, matures into an adult capable of living well, no matter what her circumstances. She is a worthy role model for any reader. Gavin J. Grant reads, writes and publishes speculative fiction in Brooklyn, New York.

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