Thursday 28 April 2016

A Better World?

I bought 'Elect Mr Robinson for a Better World' by Donald Antrim for Monkey for Christmas, purely on the basis of reading the first few pages standing in Waterstones. This really is dystopian fiction at its most subtle; the world seems rather normal, so you think you can predict how people might think and act, but in reality things have gone completely to pot. There is no explanation for the timescale or the nature of the breakdown of society as we know it. I spent quite some time expecting to get an explanation, but really Pete is rather too wrapped  up in dealing with an increasingly bizarre sequence of events to tell us how it all began. 

It is good writing because I didn't find myself questioning what was happening, there was no time and the author is too confident in his telling, and it took me quite a long time to figure out what an unreliable narrator our Pete really is, and by that time it was too late, for me and the other characters in the book. As is often the case I don't believe that whoever wrote the blurb on the back had read the book; the mayor has not been drawn and quartered, merely torn apart by wild motorists, and Pete's election campaign is only happening in his imagination; the book is punctuated by snappy election slogans that he comes up with from time to time. People are fortifying their homes and fighting over parkland territory, the school system has broken down but for some reason the library still functions and there is water and electricity, though nobody seems to go to work any more. While trying to ritually dispose of various body parts of the aforementioned mayor our hero Pete finds himself getting to know his formerly well behaved neighbours in a totally new light.

I can't write much more without giving things away, and if you enjoy stories at the weird end of the spectrum I would definitely recommend this. Here is one not-so-little quote to give you a taster. This takes place at a community meeting at the 'Clam Castle' restaurant, where Pete's role is to act as minute taker. I found it somewhat entertaining in the light of the current US election coverage and the populist rants that have come out of some of the Republican candidates (I wonder if the name 'Nixon' was carefully chosen):

"He paused for a sip of water. What would it be like to be this guy's kid? Dismal. Nixon was undoubtably a stern disciplinarian. To be his child would be to endure intolerance in the guise of paternal charity. Bill cleared his throat and embarked on a protracted screed about target marksmanship, home ownership, the joys of gardening, and the Rule of Law. It wasn't particularly coherent stuff. Or maybe it's just my minutes that don't make sense to me - Bill's inflammatory  town meeting speech is all but lost on one of those pages defaced by a water or soda glass. I guess I might've set my iced tea down on the notes without realising it. After all I wasn't, I'll admit, paying especially close attention to Nixon. I was watching his wife, Barbara. I was, in fact, having a hard time keeping my eyes off her. I do not believe it was purely a sexual thing. Bill ranted, 'I don't want some animal lover telling me to put up a chain-link fence around my lawn-based defense cavity because he or she is afraid his or her dog or cat is going to run in there.'  He chuckled at, I guess, this ironic image of a fenced-in trench or moat. Several men and women in the audience chuckled along. Bill puffed out his chest and finished, 'Friends, little Jeff's home with the sitter tonight, and let me tell you I feel a whole lot better knowing there's a network of electronically triggered fragmentation bombs armed and ready in the nasturtiums outside his window.' " (p.75-6)

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