A Family, 2029-2047
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With dry wit and psychological acuity, this near-future novel explores the aftershocks of an economically devastating U.S. sovereign debt default on four generations of a once-prosperous American family. Down-to-earth and perfectly realistic in scale, this is not an over-the-top Blade Runner tale. It is not science fiction.
In 2029, the United States is engaged in a bloodless world war that will wipe out the savings of millions of American families. Overnight, on the international currency exchange, the “almighty dollar” plummets in value, to be replaced by a new global currency, the “bancor.” In retaliation, the president declares that America will default on its loans. “Deadbeat Nation” being unable to borrow, the government prints money to cover its bills. What little remains to savers is rapidly eaten away by runaway inflation.
The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable fortune filtering down when their ninety-seven-year-old patriarch dies. Once the inheritance turns to ash, each family member must contend with disappointment, but also—as the U.S. economy spirals into dysfunction—the challenge of sheer survival.
Recently affluent, Avery is petulant that she can’t buy olive oil, while her sister, Florence, absorbs strays into her cramped household. An expat author, their aunt, Nollie, returns from abroad at seventy-three to a country that’s unrecognizable. Her brother, Carter, fumes at caring for their demented stepmother, now that an assisted living facility isn’t affordable. Only Florence’s oddball teenage son, Willing, an economics autodidact, will save this formerly august American family from the streets.
The Mandibles is about money. Thus it is necessarily about bitterness, rivalry, and selfishness—but also about surreal generosity, sacrifice, and transformative adaptation to changing circumstances.
From Publishers Weekly
© Publishers Weekly
This is my first Shriver novel, but I want to read more. This is a great story, with a driving plot, relatable (and lovable) characters, sharp observations, and lots of sly wit. Highly recommended.
Too close for comfort
This novel might see Lionel Shriver described as an updated Ayn Rand, an author I'm not particularly fond of. Shriver is a self-described Libertarian, a fact I picked up on about halfway through this novel and fully realized when a major plot point seemingly purposely mirrors Atlas Shrugged. But this story looks to US history with a sharper understanding than Rand had, and these characters, even as brilliant, well-off egomaniacs, are constructed by a more compassionate, clear-eyed author.
Shriver's subject matter always addresses current hot topics in US culture, and this dystopian economic drama feels a little too close for comfort. I felt tense reading this in tandem with election season.
The Mandibles are an upper middle class family, all anticipating an inheritance that evaporates once the driving events of the novel begin to play out. The US of 2029 (huh...) deals with the ultimate consequences of an economy pumped for more than it's worth, and we watch the family struggle through more adversity and togetherness than the average upper middle class family is comfortable with. Throughout, much discussion/explanation of the nature of freedom and its limitations comes from an elderly author (Shriver's projected future self?) and the central character, precocious young "Willing." (Get it? Willing?)
All in all, great read and very well done. The economics bits get a little drudging, but it is captivating in the context of plausibility. Some unflattering depictions could be interpreted as xenophobic, but at heart they are really critiques of our foreign policies and economic bullying. Do unto others...
Left a lot of potential on the table
This novel had huge potential to explore deep and disturbing issues, given the nature of the dystopian premise of the story, but I closed the book thinking the author only scratched the surface.
The prose was belabored, especially when characters were introduced.
Still made me want to reach the conclusion.