Friday, October 14, 2016

The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 3 (Waiting for the Dough)

In our last meeting:
Is that a plot I see pulling into the station?
Short answer? No, we've got a while to go before we get a plot.

Chapter 3 introduces a few more characters: Carter, the father of liberal punching bag Florence and not-a-mouthpiece Avery; and Douglas, a.k.a. "Grand Man," the rich patriarch. The scintillating action in this chapter involves Carter driving out to an assisted living facility to speak with Douglas about his inheritance. Thrilling stuff. I think my favorite part was when Shriver dedicated one-quarter of this chapter to Carter thinking about how disappointed his life has been because his rich father hasn't died yet.

Okay, Carter isn't that unlikable, but that's mostly because - like every other character we've met thus far - he's underdeveloped and lacks a distinct voice. He's meant to be trapped in some sort of strained and neverending adolescence due to his obsession with his inheritance but this is strictly an informed attribute, one mentioned in an internal line but never put across in the narrative or dialogue.

And by "dialogue" I obviously mean series of speeches, but we'll get to that.

There's more worldbuilding and background here. We finally learn that the Stone Age/Stonage is basically a Y2K-like event that shut down the internet (presumably just a few specific networks but that's beyond the scope of the narrative) for a few weeks in 2024. Later chapters suggest that this event was as critical as 9/11, though it doesn't seem like it had any lasting effect and Carter described it as pretty uneventful.

Now we get to Douglas and his nauseatingly plush digs. Douglas was once the head of a literary agency and keeps a lot of valuable books on hand, even though no one has books anymore (because it's THE FUTURE!, in case you forgot). Oh, and there's one other thing about Douglas that I was supposed to mention...
"So how's Luella?"
That's the one.

You may recall that it was a criticism of this character that triggered Shriver's transformation into one of her own self-pitying characters. Having read this chapter, it's easy to see why. Luella is Douglas's second wife, but we know very little about her personality or appearance save the fact that she's black (sorry, "Afri-merican") and suffering from dementia. Also this:
Relieved of his wife's day-to-day care by Wellcome staff, Douglas now modeled his marriage on the relationship of master and pet. He fed Luella treats, to which she responded with the human equivalent of a tail-wag - when she remembered to chew and swallow...
The wealthy white man has a profoundly disturbed black woman as a human pet. Yep.

It's pretty clear that this whole section was one of those cheap shock elements that's referred to as "transgressive" when it appears in a literary novel or an arthouse film. Shriver put this in so that people would consider her outrageous and edgy and then threw a fit when someone pointed it out. That sounds about right.

The rest of the chapter is filled out with endless eonomic speechifying courtesy of Grandpa Douglas, most of which is meant to hint at something dire: There might not be any money left, and even if there is it might soon be worthless thanks to the "bancor." The short version is that the bancor is the sum total of every hyperventilating right-wing prediction about the Euro but I'm sure we'll be able to go into depth in future chapters. For now, the message is: The family is fucked. And I care because they solicit my sympathy, much more than they usually do in genre science fiction.

One more shot before we move on:
"The Fed chief was emphatic. Krugman said the limits were for a few days, max."
Hurr hurr, stupid Paul Krugman thinking he understands the economy just because he won a Nobel prize. Truly a biting and incisive satirist, that Lionel Shriver. And this is not the end of it - expect to see more People Liberals Like showing up in future chapters.

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