I finished Click recently. The novel, a collection of inter-related short stories by ten different young adult authors (including Eoin Colfer, Nick Hornby, and David Almond), loosely follows the lives of Maggie and Jason Keene, who, after their grandfather’s death, attempt to retrace his life as a photojournalist. The structure allows a series of narratives to split off as the children find others who encountered their grandfather as youths.
Given that the book is part of an Amnesty International campaign, it’s nice to see that most of the writers are willing to consider different living circumstances of young adults globally. Without sensationalising the circumstances, the stories include a girl’s discovery of her grandfather’s mistress in France, a boy’s poverty and imprisonment in Eastern Europe, and an adolescent recovering from sexual abuse. The writers, though they recognise their readers are young, also recognise that they are intelligent and working through fairly serious conflicts of their own.
I was somewhat disappointed with the novel’s end, however. In an attempt to show how Maggie and Jason pass on their own narratives to the next generation, the last story in the novel moves several years into the future, which Gregory Maguire has chosen to portray as technologically advanced but vaguely dystopic (complete with cities in the clouds, online blood profiles, and sinister “logometers” which listen in on conversations, à la Big Brother).
These contextual descriptions tend to distract from what seems the point of the story: Maggie’s age and fading memory, her reflections of her grandfather and brother’s lives, and her relationship with her great-niece. Nor is Maguire’s future much more differently imagined from most dystopic futures.
I may just be intolerant of the genre as a whole. Yes, yes, dystopias allow writers to imagine and critique the dangers of police states, environmental destruction, technological trends, &tc. They tend offer these critiques, however, in a uniform and predictable manner.
In the future, laboratories and expensive high-rise condominiums will all be decorated in noiseless white; the slums with their blackmarkets and futuristic opium dens, by contrast, will be a dingy brown, or garish [your choice of colour here]. Wardrobe colours will reflect this demographic divide (a red sash, scarf, or cloak may be used as an accent). Numbers will play a critical role in the future, with most technologies, drugs, humanoid robats/cyberclones, and perhaps even most people, being numerically nominated. Music, art, and architecture will be outlawed, destroyed, or denigrated into their lowest consumable form.
The future will offer the following roles for its populace: increasingly discontented political upstart (who ends up dead or in miserable exile), interpolated drone (who dies due to his/her semi-accidental involvement in the political upstart’s rebellion), political upstart who ends up miserably reinterpolated, or sinister government policymaker (who may end up alive or dead, depending on whether the author wants to offer a “hopeful” ending or not).
Luckily for future us, reprieve (if any) will be found in the works of Shakespeare, carefully hidden in basements, attics, and secret studies. I suppose this vision is ultimately encouraging for Shakespeare enthusiasts (“read your Hamlet, kids: it’s going to save the world!”), but it’s not enough to encourage me to read any more dystopic novels in the near future.
21 March 2009 ~ St. Catharines