Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Locals by Jonathan Dee

I am an introvert. I can be outgoing and talkative and friendly, but I know I am an introvert because being around a lot of people leaves me ready for a nap and a recharge, while an extrovert would be pumped.

I was in the middle of reading The Locals when I felt that drained feeling. The point of view kept jumping from person to person and there were too many voices and people for me to handle. I took a nap.

It was several days before I pushed myself to pick the book back up. I finished it in another day's reading.

The novel starts out strong with an abrasive con man. His victim is Mark, from a small town in the Berkshires, who lost his money in an investment scam. Mark is an 'easy mark', and loses his credit card to this grifter. The story follows Mark back home, introducing a whole village of characters, each struggling to make it.

A New York City hedge-fund manager moves his family into their summer cottage; 9-11 and 'inside information' has convinced him that the city is no longer safe. Philip Hadi likes his new town and assumes political and financial control, paying budgetary items out of pocket to keep taxes low and home values high.

When the town decides they can't allow Hadi to arbitrarily make laws, he feels unappreciated and up and leaves--taking his money with him. The town has to deal with the hard reality that they cannot cover the budget without raising taxes significantly. They realize that under Hadi they had been living in "a fool's paradise," and must reevaluate what is necessary. The new reality includes closing the library, creating new fees, and requiring citations quotas from police.

Character's thoughts reflect aspects of 21st-century thinking:

"Corruption was a fact of life, on the governmental level especially, and if you didn't find your own little way to make it work for you, then you'd be a victim of it."

"The nation was at war; the invisible nature of that war made it both harder and more important to be vigilant."

"He thought everybody on TV was full of shit--the pundits, the alarmists, the conspiracy theorists--but their very full-of-shittiness was like a confirmation of what he felt inside: that things right now were off their anchor, that the decline of people's belief in something showed up in their apparent willingness to believe anything."

"The best part [of the Internet] was feeling that you were anonymous out there but had an identity at the same time." "...and this internet was like some giant bathroom wall where you could just scrawl whatever hate you liked."

"Some people really come to life when they have an enemy."

"Rich people, he thought. The world shaped itself around their impulses."

I was perplexed and puzzled why I did not have any immediate thoughts about the book. The ending involves a teenager who flaunts the rules and finds empowerment in resistance. Perhaps I am just too dense for subtlety? Or am I confused by too many voices, too many opinions, that I am not sure of what the author is saying?

A Goodreads friend loved this novel, which inspired me to request it from NetGalley. (She is an extrovert.) I agree with her that there are no likable characters. Each is flawed and self-centered, discouraged and angry about missing that brass ring ticket to success and happiness. Well, that could describe quite a few people today.

Perhaps my problem with the book is I don't like who we have become and I don't like the options offered to us. At the end of The Locals, Allerton, the new selectman, realizes that "any sort of collective action was automatically suspect...because if it worked, then we wouldn't be in the mess we were now in."

Once upon a time, we believed in progress and the eternal upward arc into a better world, which now we condemn as the fallacy of fairy tale thinking. And I want to hold to that fairy tale of a possible Utopia, the Star Trek world, the Utopia for Realists. Dee's novel reflects what we have become, but I want to be inspired to consider what we may become.

So I return to the small and strange act of resistance at the end, a teenager who just wants to sleep in a historical home, and is told she may not. It took another night's sleep for me to wake up and think, yeah, that's it--the girl's seemingly small act of resistance is a metaphor, about reclaiming for all what is reserved for those who can pay for it.

I finally saw the light.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

The Locals
by Jonathan Dee
Random House
Publication: August 8, 2017
Hardcover $28.00

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