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The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 Paperback – Large Print, June 21, 2016
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“A provocative and very funny page-turner…” (Wall Street Journal)
“….[A] powerful work...Prescient, imaginative and funny, it also asks deep questions.” (The Economist)
“Hilarious, brilliant new novel...” (Elle)
“Known for tackling big contemporary issues head-on, Shriver deals skilfully here with the implications of economic meltdown. The novel, set in a near-ish future, tells of the plight of the once wealthy Mandible family and the decline of four generations into penury, thieving and prostitution.” (Financial Times (A Summer Pick of 2016))
“[Shriver has] a sharp social eye and a blistering comic streak, and her focus on nailing down the economic nitty-gritty of her plot is only one piece of the great, disconcerting fun she has in sending the world as we know it so vividly to hell.” (The New Yorker's Page-Turner Blog)
“Shriver has always seemed to be at least a few steps ahead of the rest of us, but her new novel establishes her firmly as the Cassandra of American letters….I don’t remember the last time a novel held me so enduringly in its grip.” (New York Times Book Review)
“It’s scaring the hell out of me.” (Tracy Chevalier)
The world that the Mandible family must negotiate is evoked in seamless detail… One thing I really like is her coining of made-up slang for her younger generation of characters and her resolutely materialist analysis of what could be coming. (Jane Smiley, The Guardian)
“Distinctly chilling.” (Independent (UK))
“This is a sharp, smart, snarky satire of every conspiracy theory and hot button political issue ever spun; one that, at first glance, might induce an absurdist chuckle, until one realizes that it is based on an all-too-plausible reality.” (Booklist (starred review))
From the Back Cover
In 2029, the United States is engaged in a bloodless world war that will wipe out the savings of millions of American families. Overnight, 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. The government prints money to cover its bills. What little real currency remains for savers is eaten away by inflation.
The Mandibles have been counting on a sizable inheritance, once their patriarch dies. When their birthright turns to ash, what began as mere disappointment spirals into the challenge of sheer survival.In The Mandibles, Lionel Shriver brings the full power of her creative imagination to bear on a topic that seeps into every corner of our lives: money. Using her ability to nail the zeitgeist, droll humor, and psychological insight, Shriver has created an unforgettable and engrossing fictional world.
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Top Customer Reviews
"The Mandibles" begins in 2029 (100 years since the "crash" of 1929). In what is later called "The Great Renunciation", the president (who is a "Lat": of Latin descent), calls for the renunciation all US debt and defaults on all foreign debt. Invoking the International Emergency Powers Act of 1977 (it's real), he calls for all gold to be confiscated. Blame is placed on nebulous "hostile foreign" entities who have tried to replace the dollar with the "bancor". The President, in addition to recalling all gold (including jewelry and dental work) from every citizen, has ordered the military to do a door-to-door search for hoarded gold and for those responsible to be fined and imprisoned. In addition, the US has "reset" all US Treasury bonds to zero and inflation has driven the price of a (scarce) head of cabbage up to $30. Some folks are happy that the "uber-rich" or the 1%-ers are falling like dominoes seeing it as finally a way to erase the vast economic disparities. The US starts printing (now almost worthless) money by the truckload, though with the toilet paper scarcity - well, you can imagine what happens.
The novel revolves around the eponymous Mandible family, founded by wealthy grandfather Douglas Mandible aka "Grand Man". His oldest granddaughter, Florence, lives in Flatbush, NY, with her teen-aged son, Willing (no kidding), and her lover Esteban. Florence is highly educated (Barnard) but can only find work processing cases in a homeless shelter. Her son, Willing, is the only one who seems to grasp what is happening to the economy, but of course, no one listens to him - he's just a kid! Florence's younger sister Avery, a pseudo-psychotherapist, is married to Lowell, a professor of economics at Georgetown. They have three children, Savannah, Goog and Bing (yep, named after search engines). Avery is used to the good life and now finds that she can't even afford olive oil. It's a long way down. Lowell has a particularly difficult time accepting the economic realities that don't match up with his economic theories.
Shriver's fictional future is full of interesting and humorous possibilities: Putin is still in power: dictator of Russia. Arnold Schwarzenegger ran for president necessitating the 28th Amendment (requiring the President to be born on American soil) to be nullified. Judge Judy was appointed to the Supreme Court (which made cases much shorter). Also in 2024, the entire infrastructure of the US (electricity, water, The Internet - gasp!) was shut down for three weeks and chaos ensued. China was blamed (no proof ever attained). Journalism is dead - no source can be trusted (I'd say that's already happened). I don't want to give away too many of Shriver's "treats" so that you can savor all the ironies yourself, but one about Mexico and a wall is particularly biting.
Shriver is in her element with her sterling wit, scathing satire, and stunning irony. This is the kind of novel you'll want to talk with people about - so I highly recommend it for any Book Club with nerves of steel, because it's going to stir up some fervent feelings about race, class, money, guns, and trust in the government. It couldn't be coming out at a more auspicious moment in US history!
Basically, the plot shows an extended family of well-off whites with advanced degrees in New York and Washington DC struggling to cope with the collapse of the US economy and social fabric into Zimbabwe-like, Venezuela-like conditions after China and other nations lose confidence in the strength of the U S dollar, apparently because the Fed, under Chair Krugman, has monetized the national debt to enable the government to keep paying out entitlements to the elderly, and hyper-inflation ensues, along with capital controls and prohibition of ownership of gold, which is enforced by police invasions of homes, ripping open sofas and other property. Exacerbating matters, the demagogue of a President repudiates the national debt, "standing up to foreigners" like many a Latin American demagogue before him, which of course does turns off the capital spigot and leaves the U S economy low and dry. As we see in countries like Venezuela now, shortages immediately develop of basic products ( I particularly enjoyed the pages where the family figures out how to cope with the shortage of toilet paper ), the private sector collapses and social order breaks down; the police spend most of their day extorting bribes rather than attempting to enforce the law, which everyone needs to break to survive. The family loses multiple members to murder; and loses their homes to evictions, both legal and illegal.. A teenage son, who appears to be the voice of the author, resorts to armed robbery to feed the family, and leads them to a relatively safe place, although even that is ultimately confiscated.
The book jumps ahead a generation to a point where, in addition to the US having forsaken all military and geopolitical influence, to the point that President Chelsea Clinton can only send a condolence note to invaded allies, and Mexico having built a wall to keep Americans out, the U S has abandoned pretty much all of its principles (except the one that people in power get re-elected based on handouts), and devolved completely into a crumbling wasteland that the surviving members of the family cross in a hydrogen car to arrive at a metaphorical border, the crossing of which they may or may not survive. The author resolves the fates of the main characters in a satisfying way, if you believe in hard money, a flat rate tax, broad civil liberties (including with respect to bearing arms) and see a work ethic as more necessary to the survival of society than an expansive welfare state.
Bleak as its message is, it has a situation comedy / late-night satire tone ("Post-Apocalyptic Modern Family") which undoubtedly accounts for its popularity. I must say I am surprised at its success given that its underlying perspective resembles most strongly a Ted Cruz for President campaign brochure. In addition to its implicit advocacy of right-wing economic principles, it is pretty bluntly anti-immigration. I admire the author for her ability to turn economic concepts into entertaining fiction and for the courage to adopt a perspective that is far from popular these days.
I suspect many readers will find it ideologically unpalatable, even disguised as fiction. (Without realizing that they are re-enacting the part of the prudes in the 1960s and 1970s who complained about movies and books and music that defied the moral norms of the era).
It is a fast read and a good beach or airplane book.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
It is brilliant because she begins with an unlikable cast of characters, smug limousine liberals, trust fund babies who say...Read more