Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Alphabet Challenge by Olga Gardner Galvin

I've spent the past week reading The Alphabet Challenge by Olga Gardner Galvin and found it completely brilliant. From the publisher's website:

Set several decades in the future, the nearly unrecognizable Manhattan is made kinder and gentler by PeopleCare, an umbrella organization of myriad victims’ rights groups whose members work their fingers to the bone to make caring, compassion, and lowest-common-denominator equality a federal law, now that they have already fought for and won their campaigns for federal prohibition on smoking and obesity, among other unhealthy things.

Enter entrepreneur Howell Langston Toland, who has learned absolutely nothing in the seven years he’d spent in jail for failure to recycle empty bottles. To cash in on the prevailing zeitgeist, he creates a new category of victimization, which encompasses the broadest audience yet. Threatened by the brazen invasion of its turf and the sudden popularity of the new cause, PeopleCare mounts a counterattack against the upstart. Toland, meanwhile, succumbs to the more natural for him entrepreneurial mode of thinking, urging his annoying followers to become self-reliant so that he may cut them loose.

Vicious politics ensue . . .

One word: hysterical. Totally and completely hysterical. And I mean that in both the “haha, can’t stop laughing” and the “unmanageable fear” sort of way that my Merriam Webster describes.

In this future, people care. They care so much that you can’t do anything for yourself anymore, and why should you? You don’t know how to take care of yourself, but that’s OK, because that’s what PeopleCare is for. They’re there to make all your decisions and totally control every aspect of your life.

Think people who eat meat are insane? There’s a group for that (People for Complete Coexistence with Animals). Think you should be allowed to steal, beat, and rape? There’s a group for you (People with Different Moral and Ethical Values). Think recycling should be a choice? Sorry, that’ll get you five years in lock up. Think you should be allowed to park where you want, eat red meat, or educate your own children? Sorry, but no, you can’t do that anymore. It’s not fair to everyone else. It hurts them and the way they want to live. You’ll have to give up all of your wants and needs and personal rights for the greater good.

It’s OK though, because PeopleCare cares for people.

(In that future, I totally want to be their ad writer.)

Howell Langston Toland has finally had enough. Sentenced to a group home (Adjusted Environment Home) because his parents decided to home school him, and then sentenced to seven years in jail for not recycling and committing grievous bodily harm (tired of being robbed, Howell put cement on a window sill and stuck broken glass in it; poor thief cut himself trying to break in and immediately turned Howell in for his crimes), he decides that it’s time he gets his and starts the ABChallenge, a support group for those who have spent their entire lives being treated like lesser beings because their names start with a letter between N and Z. He’ll collect a small donation from everyone who has ever been treated unfairly because of where they fall in the alphabetical queue, make a fortune, and then run off to live in Australia, where it’s still legal to sunbathe, eat read meat, and have an opinion of your own.

I know, it’s got to be a joke, right?

Not in this future world, it isn’t. Most of America has been brainwashed into believing that it’s not their fault, no it’s the other guy’s fault and dammit, laws need to be passed against them so that you can have a fair shake. No matter that it’s asinine and stupid, it’s the way it has to be so that everything is equal.

As ridiculous as this novel is (and I mean that in a good way!), it’s frightening when you think about how things are changing here, now, ever so slightly starting to resemble things in The Alphabet Challenge. True, we can still make most of our own choices, but look at what’s going on in the food and restaurant industries. Health care. Education. Exercise. I’m not saying that I think all of the changes are for the bad, but I do think it’s a slippery slope we’re on and satire or not, this book has a point.

The day I wake up in America and find out chocolate has been outlawed, or God forbid, salt, I am totally moving to Europe, where they’ll still be allowing such hedonistic, evil, unfair things.

Read The Alphabet Challenge. Then join me in my consumption of chocolate and salt. At the same time. (They're totally delicious together.)

Posts to come: review of the Brooklyn Book Fair, what I have on my nightstand now, and the new challenges I've made for myself (because I'm not failing the ones I'm currently doing, or anything like that).

And recycle. A pox on you and yours if you don't recycle.

No comments: