The Mandibles - Book Review - Introduction

Posted On: Wednesday - January 15th 2020 7:41PM MST
In Topics: 
  Preppers and Prepping  The Future  Books

It's not often a book review has to have an introduction, even on Peak Stupidity. However, this 2016 novel The Mandibles, as recommended by John Derbyshire, BTW, is one I have so much to write about. It will take possibly 3 to 4 more posts, just due to its relevance and interest to a blogger who likes to think a lot about economics lately. This post is the intro. to the book review.

The full title, is "The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047", by Lionel Shriver. This is not what I'd call a dystopian sci-fi novel of the near future, as it doesn't involve any major changes in technology or world war and that. It's more of a story of the author's idea of a fairly-likely (IMO, too) future of America as based on our economic situation. It's very much a "prepper novel", with a different scenario than another one, One Second After (our review), but with no catastrophe involved. Though Peak Stupidity wrote our "about" page in a humorous fashion, I do think the peak of economic stupidity is coming, as "what can't go on, won't go on."* Peak Stupidity doesn't have but 10 posts, before this one, with our Preppers and Prepping topic key, but I am down with the idea.

The author wrote this book in '16, but now 2029 is only 9 years away, and Peak Stupidity aims to hold Lionel to it. I would personally not bet a single worthless (by the middle of the novel) Benjamin against her either!

Yeah, that's right, the author is a woman. First of all, the regular reader will know that I'm already sick of the naming conventions for kids these days. However, she is 62 years old. She doesn't even have the excuse that her parents were fans of funk and sappy soul music, as Lionel Ritchie wouldn't have been famous in 1957. My next guess was that Miss Shriver's Dad was one of those model railroad enthusiasts, of which there were a lot more back then (cool, cool stuff, that nobody seems to do anymore - there's an app, you see). No, I just read that Lionel Shriver picked out her first name at 15 years of age, changing it from Margaret Ann because she was a tomboy. OK, enough on that, whatever, that's no reason to put the book down.

I'll tell you what WAS, though - the first 10 pages or so. Please, if you do take what will be my enthusiastic recommendation for The Mandibles, don't get disgusted by the first little bit. I did. The story comes across as some left-wing stupidity, just based on the feminism and political situation discussed in the 1st "scene". However, I wondered "why in hell would John Derbyshire do this to me?" and picked it up again a week later. It turns out that Miss Shriver was describing the characters opinions, and different members of the Mandible family of characters had different opinions. The author's basic opinion of the economic ideas behind the story in the novel come out little by little and are clear by the end.

Because the book was written by a woman who seemingly took the same solid advice the foreward-writer Newt Gingrich gave to One Second After author William Forstchen - "write of what you know", the book has a female view on all the happenings going on during this semi-SHTF economic situation. Actually, maybe she was influenced also by Ernest Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises quote, to paraphrase "How did you go bankrupt the Shit Hit The Fan?" "Gradually, then suddenly." That's the scenario in this novel, with lots to think about for the prepper.

One aspect of the book that I'm not impressed with is the author's use of conversation to convey ideas that ought to be just conveyed other ways, if possible. The problem is that NOBODY, but NOBODY has conversations like most of those between the characters in this novel. Sure, one character is a Professor of Economics, and, in the one scene with the dinner party of a few professors and wives, sure, I can see some of this. There is a precocious teenage boy who asks about the Federal Reserve and such. That's reasonable, but most of the conversations about economics, and lots of other topics for that matter, just do not represent anyone I've ever known's manner of talking. Even if Miss Shriver hangs out with the most intellectual crowd in all of Brooklyn, NY and London, England, her two homes, she's not gonna have conversations like these, except at dinner parties. By the the 2nd 3rd of this novel, nobody was having dinner parties.

(I kinda feel vindicated as a reviewer here. While looking on Wiki a few minutes back about one of Miss Shriver's other books, I noted: "The Guardian was more mixed, praising the "fast-paced exchanges" within the novel, but noting that she has a "tendency to rely too heavily on dialogue to explain complicated issues such as the workings of the US healthcare system or the intricacies of chemotherapy."". Yep, we intellectual book reviewers, ahem, are on the same page here.)

That is one flaw that makes the book a little bit hokey. However, the novel makes up for it very well by forecasting the doom that may very well await America due to its horrible financial situation. I want to bring up that other big flaw about this prepper novel, simply due to the author being a woman. Whether she's named Lionel OR Margaret Ann, it's no fault of her own - she wrote of what she knew., However, the woman's point of view is missing a whole bunch of prepping questions and answers that a man familiar with the actual world beyond family would be able to address better. That, and plenty of very small quibbles, will be discussed in the subsequent posts.

I'm going to try not to spoil the ending of this story until as late in these reviews as I can without missing my points. (I thought about using that "MORE" HTML tag, but I'm not sure.)

I'll say right now, though, that I highly recommend The Mandibles to all Peak Stupidity readers, but especially the preppers and/or economics buffs. You will enjoy it!

* I always have attributed this line to Instapundit Glenn Reynolds, Prof. of Law at UT(ennessee), but I don't know for sure.

Thursday - January 16th 2020 2:50PM MST
PS: Thank you for that info., BernCar. I'm sure Professor Instapundit would have remarked on where he got this from at some point (or it's natural to have thought of that independently).

I have not read "Atlas Shrugged", but I did read "The Fountainhead". Yeah, I remember some of that too. It's not at all realistic. This book had people conversing in a normal back-and-forth, but each line would be something one might come up with for the summary of a paper or something. I guess she didn't want to have things explained directly by the author, but this part just didn't work. It's a very good book due to the economic theories being put into practice in the near future, anyway.
Thursday - January 16th 2020 1:22PM MST
PS: I have seen the phrase, "That which can't go on forever will stop", or words to that effect, attributed to Herbert Stein, former chairman of Nixon's Council of Economic Advisers. Of course, the government debt-to-GDP ratio that he was talking about has kept going up these past 50 years or so, but his point is well taken even if the timing was off.

That habit of explication through dialogue that you mention reminds me of Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged." Same thing. I liked it and the ideas were persuasive, but several pages of monologue is not exactly slice-of-life fiction.
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