Ripe opens quite violently with Cassie witnessing a man set himself on fire. How did you react to this scene and how did it set the tone for the novel? The next morning, on her way to work, Cassie and her driver discuss the influx of tech and the decline of San Francisco. He mentions how much better it used to be and Cassie responds, “I suppose everywhere was better 12 years ago.” What do you think of that sentiment? In what ways has your own community changed in recent years? What do you think the author's trying to communicate to us in the way she describes San Francisco? Does she succeed in that project?
Cassie is not wrong. SF was a wildly different place in the 70’s through the 90’s and tech money did no one any favors in terms of rent/expenses of living in the city. More broadly, gentrification usually results in winners and losers and change feels different depending on which group you belong to.
That said, in terms of rights and protections for most groups, things are better now than 10 years ago - it’s just east to remember the closing of your favorite Italian deli and harder to remind yourself that gay marriage was illegal and women who were pregnant or nursing were routinely discriminated against with no recourse to fight back.
The opening was extremely effective, for me. I'm not sure about SF, but the unhoused and substance-addicted population in Portland has gotten demonstrably worse in recent years. Truly inhumane circumstances are impossible to avoid witnessing. It feels disgusting and unapproachable and a source of extreme moral injury just to drive through downtown. Ripe did a perfect job of reflecting that experience, for me.