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Provocative Dystopian Farce, Tempered by an Urbane Wit,
This review is from: Yellow Glad Days (Paperback)Journalist Astin W. Wench comes to consciousness in an apparent state of limbo in unfamiliar environs. Not only is he unaware of where he is, he seems unaware of who he is and even uncertain if he is at all. He speculates that he might be dead and in some sort of spiritual hereafter. With this Douglas Adams-like introductory segment of *Yellow Glad Days*, a satirical dystopian novel somewhat reminiscent of Huxley's *Brave New World*, begins an odyssey of remembrance and revulsion through the murky depths of the protagonist's not too distant past and perhaps our not too distant future.
Gradually, memories surface as Wench appears to be in some unfamiliar field hospital in parts unknown. He realizes that his last memories were of the nightmare of facing imminent execution by a democratically elected authoritarian regime that he had aggravated once too often. It is with trepidation that he awaits answers to his present situation as he is approached by an unknown man he presumes to be a doctor. The novel then flashes back to recount Wench's career as associate science editor for Bigapolis's Daily Parade, the city's largest newspaper. "Bigapolis" appears to be a thinly-veiled representation of New York City, the only actual place name within the book so fictionalized, presumably for satirical reasons à la the *Superman* comic books.
As the novel's protagonist slowly recovers his memories and bearings, the reader learns that the United States had some years into the past elected the Moralist Party to power by the largest (apparently legitimate) electoral landslide in history. The party's founder and president of the country is the Reverend Angus Barlow Yaramon, a Mainline Protestant minister turned Fundamentalist televangelist. Yaramon built a media empire, an interlocking network of power centers, which forms the basis of his seemingly mesmerizing influence over the populace. Throughout the novel, Yaramon himself remains a sort of iconic, omnipresent background figure, never personally figuring in the narrative. Instead, Thackery Eliphalet Cinder, Yaramon's smarmy vice president and hatchet man, engages the public with the administration's relentless propaganda designed to placate the people into a sense of complacency, passivity and consumerism to the benefit of the decidedly pro-capitalist regime.
As the party's name would connote, the regime rose to power on a platform of family values advocating the outlawing of abortion and virtually all forms of birth control short off sterilization, a method resorted to by many women, though discouraged by the government. In what I found to be a rather strange twist on the part of the author, the Moralist government--in its zeal to protect the fetus (and even "unconceived" potential ones)--so empowers children as to allow them to sue their parents for such grievances as not buying them a birthday present or the parents' failure to send their children to the best finance schools within the true capitalistic paradigm. Attributing such a position to an otherwise arch-conservative political movement seems rather out of character for those of the "children should be seen and not heard" school of thought of child rearing as exemplified by at least today's denizens of the social right.
Nevertheless, as the public is increasingly "zonked out" with the omnipresent diversions of public entertainment and consumerism--the administration's contemporary version of the bread and circuses philosophy of the ancient Romans--, many women placidly return to motherhood and housekeeping as urged by the paternalistic government. The tendency towards crass consumerism is enhanced by the administration's abolishment of income taxes in favor of ingenious methods of coaxing voluntary contributions.
However, the seeds of discontent have not been completely banished as dissenters have become increasingly vocal and have congealed into loosely defined separatist movement intent on demanding Alabama as an independent state and haven for the nonconformists. Wench and Mars Gumbo, a bear-like man and Wench's nominal superior as science editor at the Daily Parade, are sympathetic to the dissident cause, especially after the veep Cinder announces a new government program called: Biopsychic Lavation for Intensified Stimulation of Superego or "BLISS" for short. This innovation in mass mind control is announced by Cinder, couched in quasi-Freudian psychobabble designed to bedazzle the rubes. It basically involves a chemical composition injected into people from seemingly arcane, antiquated Rube Goldberg type equipment loaded into mobile labs in the form of bright yellow trucks (thus the book's title). The idea is sold as a way for people to finally achieve a sense of ultimate happiness that has always eluded them.
Although the acceptance of BLISS is entirely voluntary, as testimonials begin to pour in of its effectiveness by those guinea pigs of a more adventuresome nature or desperate disposition the populace is increasingly eager to embrace this seemingly miraculous panacea for all of life's ills. Wench, however, remains skeptical and becomes outright hostile towards BLISS after his common law wife, a chronically depressed and angst-ridden Latin beauty and onetime professional model turned fast food worker trying to raise a young daughter, chooses BLISS for herself and child against the expressed wishes of her crusading lover. The result is an apparently changed and, well, blissful woman who functions perfectly while seeming to *care* about nothing, not unlike the sense of complacency observed in converts to contemporary mind control cults.
After Wench and Gumbo are summoned to a surreptitious meeting with a leader of the normally publicity-shy Freeyares, a group of quasi-religious, mostly male street mendicants and radical separatists who have embraced public humiliation and masochism as a way to achieve Nirvana, Wench is arrested by the police who violently bust the hapless social misfits. Wench is condemned to death after his publicly viewed trial, much to the shock of the presiding judge--not to mention himself. Being led to his presumed execution room is the last memory the frantic reporter has before the narrative resumes after its introductory segment.
Titus Archimedes, a medical researcher and virologist with a medical degree, dumfounds Wench in relating to him that his execution had been magnanimously commuted by the Reverend Yaramon at the last moment in favor of Deep BLISS, a far more potent form of BLISS that results from a state of extreme fear by the recipient; the only condition under which it can be successfully administered to those unwilling to receive the treatment. As a result of Archimedes and other separatist citizens of the now independent state of Alabama rescuing and reviving Wench from the zombie state he has been living in for the past nine years, the journalist has suffered total amnesia regarding these years and is shocked to learn of his own activities during this period of missing time within his consciousness.
As a result of the horrifying revelations concerning himself, Wench, along with Archimedes and the ever colorful governor of Alabama of Wench's prior acquaintance, set off on a quest to combat Yaramon, Cinder and BLISS and rescue their erstwhile countrymen from the insidious hypnotic grip of the Moralists' benighted ethics with the help of some heretical, schismatic Freeyares with an attitude and a bomb.
*Yellow Glad Days* is rather cerebral fare which does not have the markings of a national bestseller. However, it does indeed have the potential to become a modern cult classic amongst academics, intellectuals and politically-minded folks. The story incorporates several elements of today's political landscape, ranging from climate change and abortion through a host of other issues, while employing scathing social commentary replete with outrageous names and puns. From the author's introductory quote from Schiller, through his sardonic dedication to Xanax and Paxil, to the novel's amusing but thought-provoking and satisfying conclusion, *Yellow Glad Days* is a delightful, farcical romp through the jaded psyche of contemporary society projected into an all too plausible tomorrow.