Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Mandibles: 2029, Chapter 7 (The Warrior Queen Arrives in Carroll Gardens)

Thoughts upon reading the chapter title:
Oh dear God. That "warrior queen" had better kill someone when she gets to Carroll Gardens. If this is a setup for another motherfucking speech, then I'm going to break something.
Can you believe we're a third through this thing? I can't. I can't believe it because we're still meeting characters. Spending this long on buildup is the kind of thing that peon genre writers are cautioned to avoid, but of course the literary master class is above such petty concerns as "pacing" or "not boring the reader to tears."

We're back with Carter who, once again, is driving out to Wellcome Arms to visit his father. Compared to Chapter 3 the place is in a state of neglect, which is curious since I didn't think that much time had passed. Shriver hasn't given us any definite indication as to the passage of time, so I assumed that all of these events (other than the flashbacks, of course) had occurred over a few days, maybe a week. But the degree of grime and disrepair on display makes it sound like there have been weeks if not months between chapters 3 and 7. Keeping track of time must be another one of those grotty little rules for genre writers.

Come to think of it, I don't even know what time of year it is in the novel. Just another thing Shriver has in common with Jerry Jenkins.

Douglas is getting run out of his home because he can't pay his bills, so I guess he was broke after all. Carter is here to take the old man and Luella...
"But I descend from the Warrior Queen of the Ivory Coast, Nana Abena Pokuaa! Who ruled the Baoule Kingdom of the Akans for thirty years! Dirty fears! I am royalty, and Mimi is common. Lemon ramen! From traders and shopkeepers. Raiders and peepers!"
...Let's not talk about Luella. Well, one thing - at least she doesn't speak in broken English.

We next meet Jayne, wife to Carter and mother to liberal Goofus Florence and conservative Gallant Avery. She's meant to be avaricious to the point where she blames her husband for not pushing harder for his inheritance. I say "meant to be" because, once again, this is all put across via narrative infodump. Jayne's actual dialogue makes her sound frustrated, but given that two people are moving into her house - one of them a profoundly disturbed woman in need of constant care - one can imagine an explanation other than anger at not having pallets of money.

Our last introduction is Nollie, Carter's sister, and Nollie is probably the person who's had the most characterization thus far. That's not to say that Shriver doesn't give her some informed attributes anyway, but at least in this case those attributes fit with her dialogue. She's sort of a spoiled, trend-hunting jet setter, one of the classic archetypes of the hateful rich. Nollie has been riding high on daddy's money and her one literary success and is clearly meant to be a disgusting person, though she's not that much worse than the rest of them.

Nollie shows up briefly via video chat (sorry, "fleXt") to explain that she won't be able to help. She's having trouble in France, where the locals are getting increasingly hostile to outsiders. Nollie's plan is to talk her way into a room in mama Mimi's sprawling estate, and she suggests that kissing up to Mimi could solve Carter's problem as well. But lest you think Nollie's appearance is entirely useless, she does have another function - talking about what a hellhole Europe is:
"At any given time, half the population is on strike, and what good is a great train system that never runs? They're apoplectic that they can't all retire at fifty-two. They all expect their child benefit, their gold-plated pensions, their token-pittance health care charges, their truncated workweek, and two solid years of unemployment at a salary most lawyers don't earn - all of which is a human right. Along with so many holidays..."
You get the idea, it's the whole conservative buffet. Oh, and in case you were wondering: Yes, there is a reference to "no-go areas." I'm going to level with you - this review is not a conclusive list of all the right-wing blogger tropes included in The Mandibles. If you've heard it from your loudmouth coworker or that high school friend whom you're obliged to be Facebook friends with, it's in this book. For brevity's sake, I've only been including the "plot" relevant ones.

But speaking of Mimi, she's another character we haven't met yet. We also haven't met Jarred, the prepper who was mentioned in passing a few times and has been so thoroughly ignored that I had to look up his name. Past the one-third mark and we're still not done meeting people. This book is truly a panoply of things that would incur infinite scorn had a filthy genre writer done them.

One more thing we learn in this chapter is that the "bancor," the coming world currency, is actually a Vladimir Putin project. Yes, Putin is in this story because we're really not even pretending that this is set a generation from now. As with every self-published political novel I've ever seen, the author brings in every bugaboo no matter how forced it is. The difference is that most of them don't get an audience to listen to them whine about their literary trials.

We end this chapter with a stab at pathos:
Deprived of his mighty financial cudgel, Douglas Mandible was just a very old man with a host of heartbreaking vanities, no influence, and scads of dead friends. Carter felt he could see his father clearly for the first time. There was no colossal edifice to rage against - just a half-broken man who needed his help...Whether or not Carter quite bought into the lyrics of this lullaby, he was finally able to like his father, and to like himself, too.
You know what would be nice? If Shriver had put this across in the dialogue. If, rather than filling page after excruciating page with didactic speeches about conservative fiscal policy, she had taken just a precious few sentences to have father and son talk with each other like father and son. I would have given her so very much credit if she would depicted one genuinely emotional moment, if she would have had her characters speak to each rather than at each other. If she could have put these feeling across through the small heartrending gestures that we humans recognize in other humans. If she could have shown me this, instead of telling me about it.

This is the practice of a neophyte writer afraid that she won't be able to capture those subtle, intimate moments, not a well-regarded literary author with a dozen novels and a film adaptation to her name. Yes, I know that within the world of True Literature, this kind of thing is accepted. Form and imagery and language tricks take priority over authenticity or connection to the characters. I can accept this. What I can never accept is this elitist notion that this clumsy linguistic trickery is somehow a higher form of writing.


  1. Oh Jesus she's copying Atlas Shrugged.

    1. A little bit, although one saving grace: As far as I've read, it contains no sex scenes.