By Dwight Okita. $13.95; Createspace; 256 pages.
Imagine if hope was a tangible thing, a commodity to be bought and sold. Local author Dwight Okita imagines a slightly altered reality where a Hope Storepart medical clinic, part relaxation studiois open in Andersonville. His story is told from the perspectives of Jada, a woman literally born without hope, and Luke, the partner of the visionary scientist Kazu who came up with the Hope Installation.
As a person hopeless to the point of suicide, Jada wants to rain on the hope-store parade. She comes up with the idea to contract a freelance journalist to write an expose of the Hope Store; after all, surely it's a scam. But unexpected things happen when Jada gets her first dose of hope. Meanwhile, Luke struggles with the pressure of helping the business get off the ground: securing coverage from CNN, dealing with a pesky bunch of protesters who believe hope should be natural, appeasing his worried investors, and navigating his relationship with his business and romantic partner. Luke is keeping a secret from Kazu: he's not as responsive to the Hope Treatment as he pretended to be when they met in the clinical trial. It's a secret that undermines the very foundation of their relationship, let alone the scientific integrity of the business.
The Hope Store is a deceptively simple, engrossing read. Okita's research to create a believable therapeutic process is quite commendable and thought-provoking. He also primarily operates inside his character's heads, which creates some interesting dynamics as Luke and Jada observe each other without any idea of what the reader already knows. Okita's writing is easy and conversational, despite the darkest moments. Be warned of attempted suicidealthough that is in fact one of the most vivid scenes of The Hope Store and is done in a genuine, thoughtful manner.
Overall, The Hope Store is a worthy thought experiment and a tale decently told. Okita clearly has a love for science and magical realism and mixes that with an uncommon amount of empathy and interspersonal dynamics. You will want to know how everyone ultimately copes with the sudden infusion of hope in their lives ... and might perhaps find yourself wishing said store was a place you could go.