Having read Shriver’s incredible book, “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” I was very excited to read her latest. Set in 2029, this is a story about a family whose large inheritance is wiped out when America’s economy spirals into a financial abyss. The story follows the lives of the Mandible family and how they cope with hardship along with millions of others over the next twenty years.
The daily lives of the citizens are reminiscent of a country at war – spirally prices for scarce food, lack of water and no jobs – yet the country is not at war. This might be set in the future but I can think of a number of countries where this is happening in the present day.
The authors imaginary world includes accounting chips embedded into the necks of citizens to track their income and expenditure so as to ease the Government’s collection of a 70% tax rate; robots; flexscreens which are paper thin devices of communications. There’s a wall between America and Mexico which is designed to keep the subservient Americans out of affluent Mexico.
Most of the dialogue is dominated by the family’s obsession about the economics of their country’s plight. It is so heavy handed it becomes a bore of information dumping revealing little about the characters other than their sameness. This is what lost it for me. When the story actually gets going (after about page 200), I became more engaged. The family’s difficulties and their survival is interesting. But the lack of depth of the characters left me with little empathy for any of them. After 400 pages I knew little more about them and more importantly, cared less about them than I should have. Was I enlightened with all the economic speak? Not at all. An interesting premise could have given so much if the author had concentrated more on her characters.
I was disappointed as I expected more than was delivered. But then maybe, reading about the financial ales of a country like America is not a futuristic surprise just a daily reality for much of the world.