Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Mandibles

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver
HarperCollins: 6/21/16
eBook review copy; 416 pages
ISBN-13: 9780062328243

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver is a very highly recommended economic dystopian novel set in a future USA.

In 2029 President Alvarado addresses the nation and declares that rather than accept the new global currency, the bancor, the USA will default on all its loans. Oh, and citizens are required to turn in all of their gold to the US government. Members of the Mandible family were all counting on a large inheritance from the family patriarch, but that is wiped out and members of the family must do whatever they can to survive living with each other during a time of absurdly high inflation and few jobs.

Florence is the one family member who has a job (at a homeless shelter) and a home not in foreclosure, so the many diverse members of the family descend upon her and rely on her. Willing, Florence's son is the one family member who really understands what is going on and what they should be preparing for in the future. Florence's upper class sister, Avery, descends upon their house with her economics professor husband and three children, while their Aunt Nollie, returns after living for years in France. Their brother Carter and his wife are forced to care for their demented stepmother when she and their father were forced out of a care facility. Yup, it's a family in decline and the drop is steep.

It's almost refreshing that Shriver's end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it dystopian is based on economic policy and accrued national debt rather than zombies or viruses. Even though there is a claim that this isn't science fiction in the description, it is speculative fiction about the future based on current economic policies, and economics could be considered a science... At the same time it is a satire where economic policies are held up for ridicule and criticism.

Because of the nature of The Mandibles, there is a lot of information and discussion about economic policies and complicated financial terms. If these discussions bother a reader, they could be skimmed over, but that would also mean missing some of the overarching point of the novel. Sure, it's all economics, but it will make sense in the end, should you decide to follow the information. If not, you could follow the question of how these people who are so ill-equipped to survive could possible manage to do just that. Can they change to survive the upheaval and make the necessary sacrifices?

Admittedly, I am a fan of Shriver's writing; it's intelligent, well-reasoned and impeccably written. Shriver has a masterful skill with her use of language and I am always in awe of it. She also likes to tackle a specific topic in her books, so I was expecting this. I seem to be in the minority here, but I enjoyed The Mandibles from start to finish and was already recommending it before I even  started writing this review.

The writing is exceptional; the plot is well researched, clearly presented, and believable. The characters, likeable or not, are all well developed. I especially liked the last part, where the novel jumped ahead fifteen years in the future to show the results of the economic disaster. 

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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