Sunday, August 7, 2016

What is left when you cease to distinguish truths from fiction? And Other Existential Questions

Alan Thier's novel Mr Eternity probes the philosophical questions that each generation struggles to answer. What is freedom? What is truth? Can we trust individual or corporate memory? Was there a Utopian age, and can we recreate it? Can--will-- we find our own version of El Dorado? Or the Anna Gloria woman of our dreams? What is the meaning of life? Can we find happiness?

Survivor of 24 shipwrecks, Daniel Defoe/Old Dan/The ancient mariner--his name changing over the centuries--tells stories dredged from his jumbled memories. He has seen the world change and change back again. Myth and history become fused in his memory. Generations of young adults hope he holds answers:

  • A college drop-out in 2016 wants to make a film on 'the ancient mariner'. At twenty-seven years old, he 'is nothing', popping pills and worrying about global warming and the future. He travels with Dan on a treasure quest.
  • In 1560 a native Indian Pirahoa girl travels with Daniel de Fo, 100 years old, and the Christian conquistadors who seek El Dorado. Her world is about to collapse. 
  • In 2200 Jam is traveling down the coast from Boston to Florida with Old Dan, 750 years old. Dan seeks his long lost love Anna Gloria. Jam is nineteen, a poor orphan, angry and lusting for the past world of air conditioners and mosquito repellent. 
  • Dr. Dan Defoe was 300 years old in 1750 when John Green meets him in the Bahamas. John was the child of his slave mother and her master. With his death and rebirth Dr. Dan helps him find freedom and love.
  • In 2500 Jasmine Roulette, the daughter of the King of St Louis and president of the Democratic Federation of Mississippi States, is a powerless political pawn living in decadent luxury. An anachro-feminist and insatiable reader, she is obsessed with the lost American civilization. She was 26 when her father bought an old slave named Daniel Defoe who remembered the glory of the United States. 

Daniel Defoe's long life has brought wisdom: kingdoms come and go; civilizations are destroyed. Each generation must learn to let go of what they cannot control and enjoy life, even a life lived when the world is ending. True love should be each man's El Dorado, even only spun from imagination.

I was fascinated by this book. I found each character engaging. Daniel DeFoe shares aspects of the title character in his namesake's novel Robinson Crusoe, surviving shipwrecks and being sold into slavery. The young adult characters voices and perceptions are distinct and clear.

I loved the wacky, mishmash stories Dan tells of the past; they were hilarious, but also chillingly revealing. Thomas Jefferson is remembered as a revolutionary terrorist in the jihad against Great Britain. Dan says he knew a space captain named Robinson Caruso who built farms and cities on Mars.

Daniel explains the collapse of American civilization: it was more economical to allow the destruction of the world than to save it. In the future Georgia becomes the pineapple state, St. Louis is surrounded by arid desert and camels.

Readers who prefer a novel that is plot or character-driven, or following a linear time line, will find this book a challenge. Although it deals with philosophical issues, the issues rise out of the characters struggles.

The theme of the book is eternal, the specific concerns timely.

I received a free ARC through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Mr. Eternity
Alan Thier
Bloomsbury Books USA
$26 hard cover
Publication August 9, 2016
ISBN 9781632860934

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