The Mandibles - Book Review - Part 5

Posted On: Friday - January 31st 2020 5:01PM MST
In Topics: 
  Immigration Stupidity  Preppers and Prepping  Economics  Liberty/Libertarianism  The Future  Books  iEspionage

(This is the 2nd-to last of 5 parts of one book review - they may add up to a significant percentage of the number words that are IN the novel! Anyway, see Introduction, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.)

This is almost the last part of the review of The Mandibles, in which I want to discuss parts near the end to make additional points about this economic-what-if? novel by Lionel Shriver. Due to the necessity of my bringing up some details, and since I will highly recommend this book (oops, spoiled that too!), I ask the reader to PLEASE don't read this section coming - between the asterisks - if you plan on reading it! We all like some suspense, and this book has a good storyline that makes one wonder what unfortunate events will come next. I meant to put my overall conclusion afterwards, but this post got long, and that'll be the last one.

SPOILER ************************************************ SPOILER

As we left the Mandible family making a trek to upper-state New York, the China/Soviet-style collectivization of agriculture, the envy of Rotting-In Place Franklin Roosevelt, is going on. The family members that can work are just peasants now, and brother Jared's farm is no longer his to run. Peak Stupidity has discussed what happens when a country has nothing real to back up its "money" with, in "There's a lot of ruin in a nation." - Part 3*, and the author extrapolates this right on out, in what I think is a likely outcome. Foreigners, foreign companies, or foreign governments, especially Chinese, own the good ol' "means of production".

I've not written much of the author's exact timeline here, but that agriculture nationalization, and the family's time at Jared's farm ("the Citadel") was in the mid and late 30s (2030s), a century later than FDR's BS, and maybe even into the 40s. The section entitled "2047" starts with the youngest generation of the Mandible family, now mid-20's or so adults, living back in NY City in the 1st-generation real-Great-Grandmother's house (she had been murdered early on in the SHTF). Life has gotten less dangerous, but basically it's a 3rd world quality of life in the 1st world (i.e., probably brighter people!) The Lat husband Estaban has high-tailed it to Mexico, which has built a big beautiful wall to keep real Americans out (haha!). (I'm not really too harsh on the Estaban character here, as he lost the original-narrator wife Florence due to lack of simple medical care and his step-son Willing is one of the adult characters now.)

It's Willing, the hero, his girlfriend Fifa, his cousins Goog and Bing, and their sister Savannah - who, I forgot to tell you, became a whore during most of the worst economic times - and one of the 2nd generation, Nollie, who are present for the book's conclusion. Nollie is the sister of the Boomer Carter (remember Carter and mis-spelled Jayne?), who had been a writer in France most of her life but returned home before some of the worst of near-future America's times. It's her character that Miss Shriver obviously uses as a model, as the writing field surely is what she knows about. In fact, if you look up the author's bio, one of her book titles greatly resembles the title of character Nollie's most famous book.

There is a portion of the book devoted to Willing's initial refusal to get chipped. This chip is the true "Mark of the Beast" type, without which one can neither buy nor cell, but with plenty of other new features, for FREE. Yes, I know, the "Mark of the Beast" business is workable RIGHT NOW, with today's technology. Willing gets the chip, and there is plenty more to that story ... Peak Stupidity is pretty hip to this iEspionage business too, with more posts on it coming.

What's also a cool subject here is that the brother Goog has joined the dark side, the US Government's new version of the IRS, called SCAB as a play on the initials for Bureau for Social Contribution Assistance (with the "B" switched to the end). At this point, to keep the America show going on, this organization takes a majority of even the meager incomes of these young adults with 2 or 3 jobs. This is cool because we can see even this author's (did I mention she lives in Brooklyn and London) understanding of the brutality of high taxation. It also gives us a chance to hear more economic discussion and debate, as the young adult characters have what they can of a party. Goog has not been invited on purpose due to his being someone people in East Bloc during the Commie era would have been well familiar with - a government stooge who could get any one of his brother, sister, and cousin in trouble for any little thing. He arrived anyway. and I guess he was there for the economic debate, but he ends up staying quite a bit longer than he wanted to ... haha!

Let me insert here that Miss Shriver's extrapolation about the taxes, and the huge proportion of old "shrivs" who receive the lion's share of this taxpayer money may not be a good one. She's implies or has a character state that "they've got the votes". Really, will votes still matter? I'm of the opinion that, just as with all Commie governments, they will realize the bind they are in and make new policy, voting notwithstanding. Either way though, it's a good look at economic and social issues that exist already today among different generations.

Any good book ought to have a road trip, and Lionel Shriver does not let us down here either. It turns out there is no State of Nevada anymore - it is the "United States of Nevada", no utopia by any means, and cut off by all relations to any country but Eritrea (ha, she's funny too!), but a renegade land that unchipped brother Jared has gone off to. The people of this land live off the reach of the SCAB, and must survive completely without material imported or exported. The place has seen the endgame of the new economy and wants no part of it, so its economy is at square one. You need to have a place like this in any dystopic novel, if you're going to have something resembling a happy ending, and the same for real life.

The road trip is undertaken by Willing, an UNwilling cousin Goog, cousin Bing, and great-aunt Nollie, the writer and only one who enjoys actual driving of a car. There is just another beef I have here. Again, I don't expect this Bi-Coastal (E. coast of N. America and island off W. coast of Europe) lady to write correctly of what she doesn't know.

This mistake is that Nevada may have been the closest state to be a Libertarian paradise, or at least full of people who would want that, 30-50 years ago, but it's not now, and won't be in 2047, barring an expulsion. After many decades of illegal alien immigration, especially to Las Vegas, the state is not the same, with those old ornery codgers and cowboys no longer having a big influence. Miss Shriver is imagining a Nevada of 1970. It's not like Miss Shriver didn't do a good job describing the State of Nevada, as "a magnet for kooks, misfits, outcasts, miscreants, mavericks - the malcontents, the fantasists, the workers of short-cuts", with a really cool background picture from its history. Due to huge Hispanic immigration, it's just way off now, and would be even more off if this continues.

In general for this book you'd think this immigration aspect of all the changes in America would have some bearing on the writer's extrapolations, but all she's got is "Lats are OK". Is this a personal thing with her? Maybe, but, I still can't get over the Lat boyfriend helping do the dishes (see Part 1). Yeah, right!!

The group arrived at the supposed highly-defended USN border where the captive Goog was released on his own recognizance as someone too steeped in his Statist ways to want to live free. The border was a barbed-wire fence rather than the Great Wall that the US government claimed. Here's where I come to the lack of understanding of the gold standard. However, this may be my misinterpretation of the characters' wording, so you be the judge. It's an old codger who lives just inside the USN and Willing talking econ. again.
"Do Nevadans use money at all?" Wiling asked.
"What do you think, we use beads? We're not savages. Carson City issues continentals. First currency of the original thirteen colonies. But it went to hell pronto in the late 1770s. 'Cause it wasn't backed by nothin'. We fixed that."
"Don't tell me," Willing said. "You're on the gold standard."
"Ain't you quick! Before we cut loose, the Free State produced the majority of American gold anyways. But supply of continentals is real restricted. Learned out lesson from the thirties. Everybody round here pretty much agree that on the face of it the gold standard's dumb. Arbitrary, the governor calls it. Not much to do with the stuff but wear it around your neck. Can't eat it. But for currency it works. Even if we don't quite know why. One continental buy you a whiskbroom today? One continental buy you a whiskbroom tomorrow. So it's not that dumb."
Well, this is the old codger talking, but does the author get it? No, you don't need to carry gold coins around. That's not the gold standard. The gold standard is having this impossible-to-replicate element as the BACKING for whatever currency, continentals, dollars (before Nixon and the FED nixed all that), or anything else.

OK, there is one more surprise in the ending. I will not tell the reader who has gone this far this, as, if you enjoy this blog full of economics talk, you'll enjoy this book too.

SPOILER ************************************************ SPOILER

Wheewww! The Conclusion is coming tomorrow.

* See also Part 1 and Part 2.

Saturday - February 15th 2020 7:11AM MST
PS: More like "right up my alley", dammit.
Saturday - February 15th 2020 7:10AM MST
PS: Well, A.M., even though my review was damn near as long as 1/2 the book, haha, I still recommend it to you. You would have to simply get past those first 10? pages or so that had me stop reading and wonder what was John Derbyshire (who recommended it) ON?

There was suspense in the story as to what would befall these people next, so I kept going. The discussion of economics is right up my ally, and the author does seem to have her head screwed on straight regarding this subject.

Anyway, thank you very much for reading here. I got very busy over the last couple of days, but will try to put up a post or two today.
Almost Missouri
Friday - February 14th 2020 1:04PM MST

No, I didn't read it. I couldn't even make it through One Second After. The reason I read your review of Mandibles (incl. spoilers) is to find out what was in it without going through the trouble of actually reading it. And your take on the contents is a free bonus.

Like you (I surmise) I'm mainly interested in what civilizational collapse looks like in 21st century North America, and I'm less interested in whatever literary pretensions a Brooklynite has. I found the early pages of One Second After to be informative, but information decreased geometrically with distance from the front cover. I expect the Shriver slo-mo scenario is more likely than the EMP-flash, but she seems less informative about the mechanics.
Friday - February 14th 2020 10:15AM MST
PS: A.M., I imagine Miss Shriver has seen the Sliver State either only from 30,000 ft. on the way to California, or possibly via landing at McCarren and getting a ride to the strip.

You are absolutely right on this point, Almost Missouri. I've driven across the state numerous times and in various directions. It's beautiful and FAST driving in the basin/range country, but yeah, water is the big problem. It's part of what I meant by the "female point of view". Where water comes from, how they would survive with ZERO outside trade, well, that's nothing to women normally have to think about. I should have mentioned this point, as I was thinking about the logistics of the drive across the desert, but left that stuff out.

BTW, regarding your point about the Mormons: Yes, they are the biggest of preppers as a group, and I have even tried to get some help from them in this regard ... and, yes, as a matter of fact, it DID involve beans and number # cans!

The 2nd largest density of Mormons (on a large scale) in America is northern Nevada. One would hope they'd be on the right side in this fictional account, but knowing some of the cucks like Romney, who knows? They could be as culturally suicidal as the rest of us, but with at least the chance to rebuild after the self-induced SHTF.

Either way, as a bi-city lady, I don't think the author knows prepping from this point of view, but she still brings up some great ideas and her narrative could be a good warning to some.

Did you read the book, Almost Missouri?
Almost Missouri
Thursday - February 13th 2020 9:48PM MST

The gold standard, guns, Latino immigration and Nevadan demographics appear not to be the only things that Ms. Shriver doesn't fully apprehend. She writes that these future libertarian Nevadans "must survive completely without material imported or exported". Has it occurred to her that Nevada is a fecking desert? That you can't eat sand and wear rocks? That the population that could survive in Nevada without material imported or exported is minuscule and their material civilization would be very very meager. Nevadan gold could remedy this to some extent, but it would have to be exported in exchange for importing food and textiles.

Now as the central valley of California has shown, it is possible to grow crops in the desert, ... IIF you have water. And if you are living in the American Southwest, such as Nevada, whether or not you have water depends on the whims of those upstream, AKA Utah and the Mormons. And lest you think big whoop, Mormons: a bunch of soft white people (which is often true physically), those Mormons are armed to the teeth. Those boring Mormon suburban tract homes have gun safes and millions of rounds of ammo. They're the OG Preppers.

Also, a bit of a quibble about the book cover: "In God We Trusted". Yeah, I know it's supposed to be a clever riff on the banknote motto, but if there is one thing we did NOT trust in since about the 1940s, it's God. Of all the blame there is to go around for the fall from Peak America to Peak Stupidity, God should get the least. Indeed, if Americans were more introspective, we might notice that the past-tensed-ness of our trust in God, rather than God Himself, is a primary cause of our misfortunes.
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