Literature / Running Out of Time
Running Out of Time
, not to be confused with the song
or the film, is a 1995 Science Fiction young adult
novel by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Jessie Keyser has lived 13 years thinking that she lives in a rural village called Clifton in 1840s Indiana. When her village is struck with a bout of diphtheria, her mother tells her the truth: The year is really 1996, and Clifton is nothing but a replica of a historic village, or a tourist attraction. Jessie is sent to go get the cure for diphtheria in secret in the outside world from a scientist named Mr. Neely. But something more dangerous is afoot when Jessie's search ends.
Rumors exist that The Village
is inspired by this. For the trope that means "running out of time", see Race Against the Clock
Tropes used by the novel:
- Adults Are Useless: The only adults around are A) unable to help, B) so far into denial/fear that they can't see the problem to help, or C) actively causing The Masquerade.
- Big Brother Is Watching: Since the tourists obviously can't interact with the villagers, special portraits of the President, trick mirrors, and similar tactics are used to let them observe from afar. At least one tourist has commented on how voyeuristic it all is, but the tour guides cheerfully explain that the villagers are aware of the surveillance and have all consented to it, so if no one has any further questions, we'll be moving right along...
- When Jessie's Ma admits that this was a really terrible thing to do to her children, Jessie tries to comfort her by saying, "You always did tell us God saw everything we did." Mrs. Keyser laughs and says that was something they deliberately emphasized. "Would you have behaved better if we said 'God and a bunch of strangers you've never met?'"
- Born in the Wrong Century: Jessie's dad is a talented blacksmith in an era where there is literally no use for one outside historical recreation villages like Clifton. After things start going south in Clifton, he represses his knowledge of the modern day and sinks firmly into denial. At first, Jessie's mother believed his refusal to talk about their modern-day lives was him simply trying to protect her (he'd been beaten for Jessie poking around the cameras), but she comes to believe it's deeper than that and Joseph Keyser ends up having the hardest time readjusting.
- Bittersweet Ending: The men responsible for the experiment are arrested and Jessie and her friends and family can look forward to living a new modern life in the present day, but some of the children did not survive the plague that prompted Jessie to leave the village in the first place.
- Brainy Brunette: Jessie laments that she's not pretty like her sister Hannah, but she's the smartest student in school. This is a part of the reason that Ma chooses Jessie, and not Hannah, to escape the village.
- Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality: Jessie's father wanted to join Clifton Village because he was a genuinely talented blacksmith from his time working in another historical village, but there was no real call for that in the 1980s. After he was beaten by Clifton's men because Jessie was poking around the cameras, he began repressing his knowledge of the outside world and wouldn't let his wife speak of it. At the end of the book, he's still so deeply in denial that he needs a therapist, who has agreed that the family living on the Clifton site while they ease into the modern world would help.
- Chekhov's Gun: The fat environmentalist's comment about how you can't trust the water, referring to a ditch that Jessie was about to drink out of, ends up saving her when she's given a glass of water with a sedative dissolved in it. She remembers talking to him and dumps the water out the window instead of drinking it.
- Evilutionary Biologist: Frank Lyle, whose reason for letting people get sick in the town was to strengthen the immune systems of the survivors.
- Fish out of Temporal Water: A non-literal form of this trope, as Jessie is not really from 1840, but from a strictly-run historical preserve. However, 1996 is completely alien to her.
- Innocent Bigot: When Jessie gets to the outside world, she meets Nicole, a black girl, and briefly considers commenting on how surprisingly smart she is and asking her what it's like to be a "Negro." Fortunately she doesn't get a chance to actually say it.
- Less innocent are the people she recalls from Clifton during this. She's been told that "Negros" have skin that is "pure black and hair that is pure curl," and that they aren't as smart as white people— something she immediately notes is untrue, because Nicole is very intelligent, and the only person who brings up the creepiness of the voyeurism. She also notes, upon seeing Nicole among white classmates, that "the abolitionists in Clifton" got their wish with slavery abolished— which implies that there are anti-abolitionists (ie, people who support slavery) in Clifton.
- Kid Hero: Jessie, naturally. However, the trope is also deconstructed later on, by having someone bring into question what Jessie's mother was thinking when she snuck Jessie out of the town on her own to get help. This infuriates Jessie, who reminds the reporter explaining this to her that she already told him why she went instead of the adults: they only had one change of clothes, and none of the adult women could fit into them after multiple pregnancies.
- Masquerade: The adults who joined Clifton when it was founded obviously know the truth, but they raised their children to believe it was the 1840s. They were initially meant to explain everything to the kids once they were old enough to understand, but that ended up being forbidden before any of the children could find out. The odd anachronism, such as the words "okay" and "shut up", still manage to creep in, which does not please the men in charge.
- The '90s: The book describes trends from the real present day and how they seem strange.
- Not So Remote: And how! From an isolated little village on the frontier to inside a tourist center.
- Past Right Now: The existence of the historical preserve, essentially a key aspect of the story.
- Playing with Syringes: Clifton is actually the brain child of a few scientists, funded by a millionaire, who are trying to breed a race of super humans by releasing various diseases into the water until the survivors are immune to all of them.
- She Knows Too Much: Jessie's knowledge of what's happening in the town is reason enough for them to want to kill her.
- Something Only They Would Say: The reporters at Jessie's press conference can't prove her story of a diphtheria epidemic, but they can prove she's a Clifton child: they ask her to recite all the Presidents, states, and capitals, like she would in the schoolroom. She promptly faints from diphtheria, proving that, too.
- There Are No Therapists: Played straight in the village, as the 1840's weren't swimming with psychatrists. Averted in the end when Jessie's dad is required to attend therapy to deal with his denial of reality.
- Truman Show Plot: Variant...not a reality show per se, but close enough. Only the children didn't know the truth.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Frank Lyle, who intended to strengthen humanity against diseases.
- What Would X Do?: Jessie's older sister, Hannah. When Clifton's men hold the school hostage, she thinks "What would Jessie do?" and trips Mr. Seward so that he drops his gun. His son, Chester, who Jessie was teasing her about having a crush on, picks it up and refuses to give it back, because he'll use it to hurt Hannah. Chester Seward marches his father outside of the schoolhouse and into police custody.