Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 11 (Badder Bitter Gutter)

We're past the halfway mark and still have no plot in sight. Instead, we've settled into a comfortable routine of observing and remarking upon the various indignities faced by a once-affluent family. Today's topics: Hoarding, waste disposal, criminality, elder care. I wish I could say that it got exciting but even the author seems a little bored at this point.

Avery, our faithful conservative mouthpiece, is continuing her slide into insanity (or possibly alcoholism as suggested in this chapter). She's now in the habit of buying whatever crap is on sale at local retail centers, regardless of its utility, because these things are "not made of paper, and they're not an abstraction." The ten people living in this house are now sharing the space with many boxes of weather-stripping, fungicide and sticky notes, among other things.

We learn from a newscast that this type of hoarding is becoming ever more common, and I'm just surprised that we still have newscasts. I can accept that the electrical grid and information networks are still functional, and I'll even swallow that the Mandible household is still able to pay for such things - the only things that have been specifically disrupted are water and shipping lines, so that's fair. What I can't quite accept is that the television news is still profitable enough for nightly broadcasts. So the whole nation is on the brink of destitution, but neither CNN or its advertisers have been affected? Shit, it sounds like journalism in the dystopian future is doing better than it is in the present.

Speaking of shit, that's our next issue - literally. You know how most post-apocalyptic novels skirt the issue of human waste management? Not The Mandibles, and this whole section really illustrates why this is so rarely addressed. To put it bluntly, this whole chunk of the chapter is gross. Sure, it adds veritas, but it's also uncomfortable to read. More importantly, I don't think this adds much. I've dabbled in this subgenre myself, but I never thought it would add much to describe how and where Storyteller takes a dump and what he uses to wipe (or, for that matter, where Pathfinder gets tampons, an issue that even Shriver seems a little squeamish about).

After that pleasant section, we jump forward a year. Yes, in the middle of the chapter, between two subsections. We're not told about the latest skip forward until the start of the next chapter, but it has to have happened here - the chapter starts in winter with Florence talking about Willing's fifteenth birthday in January, and then suddenly it's July and Willing is fifteen. Masterful.

Willing is the focus of the balance of the chapter. In the past eight-some-odd months, he's turned into a thief, and apparently a fairly skilled - or at least prolific - one. He learns about easy targets at Obama High (ugggggh) and then helps himself to whatever foodstuffs are easy to take. That a middle-class kid would resort to thievery is not surprising, but it is remarkable that he'd take to it so readily and without any guilt at all:
But Willing felt no need for rationalizations. He was refining a skill, like purifying water and building a fire - one that would later come in handy when thou-shalt-not-steal joined anachronisms like lactose intolerance. If Willing's descent to thievery signaled a broader corruption of the American moral order, the moral order would decay with or without him. The degradation of his mores was merely a matter of keeping up to date...
Between this and his terrifying affect, I'm thinking Willing might be a sociopath - not that this would stand out too much in this family. Incidentally, if you want to see what it really looks like when a nominally middle-class family turns to petty thievery, you can see a real-life example in Growing Up Empty by Loretta Schwartz-Nobel. Suffice it to say that people generally don't turn into amoral monsters just because times are tough, so there's nothing particularly realistic about the above. Then again, transgressive authors are very fond of sociopaths - being characters of very shallow personality, they're an easy dodge for a writer of limited talent but big ambition.

We get a brief update on the other kids. The Petes are doing badly, but that's not a shock. Savannah has started disappearing without explanation:
Yet she had a secret life, and that was irresistible. She was pretty, and it made him feel weak that this made any difference. Whenever he came home and she was gone, the air went flat.
Goddamn it, Willing, now you're perving on her? I think I understand why Savannah leaves so much - I too would want to spent as much time away from blood-related males as possible.

When he isn't stealing, Willing is going on errands to Carroll Gardens to visit the older relatives. Now, the state they're in...
In a dingy striped nightgown, strapped to a straight-back with her wrists duct-taped to its arms, Luella recalled a victim of the early electric chair. something I'd just as soon not discuss. Instead, most of this section is Douglas speechifying about politics. This reminded me of how long it's been since we actually saw much in the way of politics in this story. The only policy we've seen enacted was back in Chapter 4, and we saw the results in Chapter 6. Within the narrative, that means that it's been a full two years since the President did anything. Presumably it's also been two years since anything of note has happened in the world - it seems like the contrivance of an ongoing nightly news broadcast is here to alert us to new complications, but all they seem to say on the news is that the economy still sucks.

Do you think they're talking about the election yet? This is right in the middle of 2031, and (as we all know far too well) that's right about the point in the neverending American election season when the representatives of Our Wonderful Newsmedia begin speculating on who might consider running for President. No word on that, though, but we do know that things still suck.

What else...oh, our old friend the past progressive tense makes an appearance:
"One of the primary responsibilities of government is to provide a functional currency," [Douglas] was declaring.
Hello past progressive tense. Not sure what you're doing tagging dialogue, but we're happy to have you here.

Oh, and Savannah's a prostitute now. Shriver just kind of slipped that in to the last few lines of the chapter, and no one really reacts at all. Ho hum.

No comments:

Post a Comment