Sunday, March 29, 2009

Last Last Chance by Fiona Maazel

I've been known to complain in the past that there weren't any contemporary women writing really wacked out novels (or even mildly wacked out novels) with really wacked out women characters but that's all changed in the past five years or so. And it might even be a benefit of creative writing workshops. Men and women in classes together seeing what each other do might actually have more influence on busting self-imposed gender boundaries than men and women reading each others books ever did. This is a really funny novel about a superplague (in a world of post-9/11 novels, this is really the first post-Anthrax novel, though some other hideously infectious lab specimen is used in lieu of Anthrax). Anyway the novel is narrated by a drug addict who happens to be the daughter of the scientist (who subsequently committed suicide) accused of loosing the superplague on the public. And there are some reincarnated Vikings. Kind of Denis Johnson meets Don DeLillo meets the guy that added zombies to Pride and Prejudice.

One of the hazards of workshop is that excess often gets trimmed. Even when it's allowed by the workshopees, it's typically suggested that the author pull back. This novel is not in the least pulled back and that's why it feels original. Actually I guess it doesn't feel totally original since I just called it a Jesus's Son's White Noise Zombie novel...but it feels original all the same. And one of the great choices Maazel makes is to pair this end of the world plague with a character who goes into rehab. It's a great juxtaposing of a Big Universal Theme and a Smaller Character Issue. What better way to suggest that there is always hope than to have a character kicking drugs when she's about to be superplagued out of existence? Well, the only better way is to include reincarnated Vikings who show there is always a second chance, and a third, and not just a last chance, but a last last chance.

Funny. Not perfect but funny.

One of my former grad students mentioned how she would never ask addicts to read Johnson's Jesus' Son because the book prizes cleverness in just the way that addicts need to let go of (I actually think the character moves from prizing cleverness to prizing moments of sincerity, but I see her point, readers definitely prize the cleverness). And this novel is I suppose I'm saying it's not something one should read to help with recovery, it's more like magic realism where the addiction is metaphor rather than reality. Which raises the question of should such a real problem be left to realism...the answer has to be no (no boundaries!)... but it's an ethical concern authors should at least take to heart.

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