A futuristic tech thriller in the vein of The Circle and a dark social comedy like My Year of Rest and Relaxation, Oval is a deeply funny and fast-paced novel that’s so sharply observed it’ll “slice you like a paper cut” Anja and Louis live in a zero-waste “eco-community” run by a giant technological corporation called Finster. Their relationship is disrupted when Anja discovers that Louis has invented a pill that induces empathy in the user; he intends to use it to correct economic inequality in Berlin Touching on everything from big tech to consumerism to climate change to relationships, Oval is a dystopian social satire for our times Elvia Wilk has written for publications like Frieze, Artforum, Metropolis, Mousse, and more, and has been selected for residencies around the world; she’s well connected and counts Meg Wolitzer as her mentor With Oval, Wilk joins the ranks of literary sci-fi writers of the moment: Naomi Alderman, Leni Zumas, and Emily St. John Mandel Wilk perfectly balances the astute world-building of near-future Berlin with keen and often tender observations about human relationships. Early scenes in which Anja fixates worriedly over her role as Louis's partner and his behavior following his mother's death are particularly arresting: "She’d thought the death was hers to tell. Only now that she’d been robbed of it did she realize how tightly she’d been clutching the news to herself. She’d thought many times already of how to deliver the news to Howard, softly and somberly, ‘passed away’ instead of ‘dead,’ remembering the dark thrill of saying the words to her own parents and his friends who ‘deserved to know,’ the assuredness that she was the one entrusted to disseminate the privileged information. Knowing before anyone else, knowing first, had been proof of something. The shallowness of the proof, now disintegrated, revealed the pettiness of the need."
Bookseller praise for Oval “Oval is bizarre yet delightful. Set in Berlin in a future that isn’t too far from today, the climate is scarily unpredictable, people are increasingly detached from their humanity, and big corporations are infiltrating all aspects of life, including art. A party drug called Oval enters the scene, supposedly meant to increase people's generosity for the betterment of society, but really it's for the better of the big corporation that owns the drug. It’s a dark and bleak novel, yet thoroughly enjoyable and engaging. I loved it!” —Sarah Cassavant, Subtext Books (St. Paul, MN) "When I picked up Oval I was expecting something different, but I wasn't expecting to be blown away by the bizarre (in the best way possible) story Wilk has crafted. Upon meeting Anja and Louis you realize they are struggling to afford housing, like just about everyone else living in Berlin. When an opportunity arises for Louis to make money, no matter the cost of how it affects his relationship with Anja and just about everyone else, he seizes it. Thinking this could be the answer to the housing problems, Louis dives in with no regard as to how it will change their lives forever. A complex story about relationships and the desire to help humanity . . . But is it helping humanity when you are trying to help yourself? Is there a truly selfless act?" —Teresa Steele, Old Firehouse Books (Fort Collins, CO) “Oval is one of the most terrifying books I've ever read. Wilk paints a picture of the future that is too close to tomorrow for comfort. Somehow, everything is going wrong in Berlin. Housing is extremely unaffordable, climate is unpredictable, and people don't care about art or activism, only how a brand looks on the outside. I particularly enjoyed the character comparison between Anja and the house on the Berg: two living, breathing characters that smother their loved ones and eventually self-destruct.” —Christy Rogers, Avid Bookshop (Athens, GA)
"This rollicking dystopian reminded me of Stanislaw Lem's The Futurological Congress and other classic works of trippy science fiction from Philip K. Dick to the Matrix movies. Combine these with a treatise on modern love, commentary on greenwashing, deflection through emoji use, and a very, very bad rash, and you have Oval. Berlin in the very near future is even more unaffordable and corporations rule, posturing as benevolent overlords while existing solely to turn a profit at any cost. Anja and Louis have moved into an artificial mountain community rent-free in exchange for their silence about the eco-settlement's grotesque and life-threatening failures. Navigating their relationship, careers, and bizarre weather, the couple struggles to survive and make meaning of it all. The book is very, very funny and also a scary warning of what our near future may become." —Kelly Justice, Fountain Books (Kennewick, WA) "Wilk tackles the trend of corporatization in environmentalism, art, and even empathy in this stunning debut novel. Anja, a biologist-turned-consultant, lives on a man-made mountain in the middle of Berlin with her boyfriend, Louis, an artist-turned-consultant. When Louis returns from his mother's funeral, Anja is afraid that he has changed as a person. What she doesn't expect is for him to start rolling out a drug that chemically induces charity to the party scene of near-future Berlin. Imaginative but not far-fetched, Oval puts to page a generation's anxieties in a world of profit and guilt." —Lucia Drinkwalter, Flyleaf Books (Chapel Hill, NC) “A grand exploration of modernity, vaguely satirical and nearly dystopian until you realize just how accurate and pointed Oval really is.” —Justin Souther, Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe (Asheville, NC) “This book was so delightful, engaging, and weird. Like falling down a rabbit hole and not wanting to find your way out again.” —Allie Bangerter, hello hello books (Rockland, ME) “Forget flying cars—the future looks a lot like today, albeit ravaged by climate change and an ever-widening wealth gap. Enter Oval, a party drug designed to induce feelings of generosity in its privileged users and compel them to give without restraint to the less fortunate. Conveniently, this chemical counterbalance to capitalism’s ills places the burden of systemic change on the individual, while simultaneously profiting and exonerating the company that owns the drug, a.k.a. the giant corporation that owns just about everything. It’s a perfect ouroboros of neoliberalism and a hugely enjoyable premise for dystopia, especially when the writer is as clever as Elvia Wilk. But there’s more—this book has more layers than the platonic ideal of nachos. In broadest terms, it’s a story about love and relationships and responsibility and identity, about existing in a world that’s collapsing. It is deeply dark and unexpectedly funny, bleakly familiar and completely original. Oval feels like a cult classic, something that is effortlessly iconic and endlessly discussed.” —Lauren Peugh, Powell's Books (Portland, OR)