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In ‘The Marriage Act,’ John Marrs paints an Orwellian world where perfect couplehood comes at a cost

John Marrs is the author of “The Marriage Act”
John Marrs is the author of “The Marriage Act”

Sometimes when I talk to my friend Alexa — that useful little machine in the corner of the kitchen — I have fleeting visions of a dystopian future. I imagine her monitoring every sound, tapping into personal conversations, reporting back to higher powers.

It’s not so far from the truth, of course. We know she’s listening. British author John Marrs knows it, too, and he explores that theory to stunning effect in his newest novel, “The Marriage Act.”

The setting here is near-future Great Britain, where a right-wing government believes it has the answer to society’s ills: the Sanctity of Marriage Act. The act encourages marriage as the norm and rewards couples who sign up for a so-called Smart Marriage. Those couples get tax breaks, lower interest rates, priority health care and better schools for their children. In exchange, they agree to be monitored 24/7 by an electronic device called an Audite. If the machine senses relationship troubles, it alerts the authorities.

The novel follows four couples who discover what a difficult proposition that can be. Marrs is known for his clever, compelling fiction. This novel features plenty of nods to his previous work, including “The Passengers,” which looks at the ugly side of self-driving vehicles, and “The One,” in which a service called Match Your DNA promises to bring together soulmates with a simple mouth swab.

“The Marriage Act” is every bit as Orwellian as you might imagine, with unexpected twists that keep you guessing. Think “Black Mirror” meets “The Handmaid’s Tale” — a perfectly creepy summer read that will have you giving Alexa the side-eye.

Suzanne Perez is a longtime journalist covering education and general news for KMUW and the Kansas News Service. Suzanne reviews new books for KMUW and is the co-host with Beth Golay of the Books & Whatnot podcast. Follow her on Twitter @SuzPerezICT.