Into the Abyss: ‘Ripe,’ by Sarah Rose Etter

Jessica Lobaccaro

In Sarah Rose Etter’s Ripe (Scribner; 276 pages), we follow Cassie, a 33-year-old San Franciscan working at a tech company. Her life is seemingly secure; she makes a comfortable six-figure salary and can afford her $3,000 monthly rent. However, we quickly find that Cassie is unstable and depressed—she regularly snorts cocaine (especially before work), she is dating a chef who has a girlfriend, and she finds herself in the midst of an unwanted pregnancy, all while suffering from a strained relationship with her mother. But most disturbing of all: ever since Cassie can remember, she has had a literal black hole as a looming companion. The hole expands and contracts, depending on the scenario. At its largest, it overwhelms her with feelings of sadness and emptiness.

On the surface, Ripe has potential. It’s a fictional dive into a world we all want to know more about, seen through the eyes of a deteriorating narrator. But the execution falls short.

Etter sets us up to empathize with our protagonist, showing that Cassie is unlike the rest of her Silicon Valley associates, or, as she calls them, “Believers” (“They wear: wind jackets with tech logos, raw denim, canvas sneakers, sustainable ballet flats…”).  But as the novel progresses, Cassie makes multiple demoralizing decisions for the “good of the company.” It is clear that Cassie is just another Believer—sacrificing her integrity to keep her job and security. All the while, we witness her slowly unraveling as she maneuvers family, relationships, and the ominous presence of her ever expanding black hole, a metaphor for depression that becomes repetitive.

Perhaps Ripe is simply making the indisputable point that no one is safe from the temptations of greed, and people will do compromising things to keep their comfortable lives, but is telling us in the guise of a “sad girl novel.” But unlike other recent novels about depressed women by authors such as Ottessa Moshfegh, Halle Butler, and Emma Cline, the protagonist here seems hollow and forgettable. Unfortunately, the same could be said of the novel’s social commentary on San Francisco, poverty, and capitalism. By the end, the reader feels as desolate as Cassie.

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