This is a tough one to review. I want to give The Lost Cause 5* (for effort?) but I just can’t.
An Amazon reviewer wrote: “Doctorow has long abandoned entertaining or educating with his fiction. Now it’s just about venting his mindless and ignorant hatred for Capitalism, Trump and his followers, Western Civilization, and people of pallor (at least the ones with penises).”
Well, that only makes me like it all the more, apart from the ‘mindless and arrogant’ comment. What’s not to hate about [present-day US] Capitalism, Trump and his followers, and entitled uber-rich white men? The MAGAs are awful and terrifying (disgustingly terrifying — like the bubonic plague, not like a lion). And where better than in fiction to point out their danger? Doctorow presents a believable picture of the world in (or at least the US) 30 years from now, where climate change has taken a heavy toll on populations, MAGAs are old, white and angry, and even more aggressive than today, and the ‘plutes’ are enjoying life on their mega-yachts off the coasts of sunken islands.
We shouldn’t just be warning the world, we should be screaming it from the rooftops. I applaud Doctorow for trying. He has something worthwhile to say.
Oh but why oh why didn’t he employ a ghost writer to write The Lost Cause? This novel is So. Badly. Written. The main character is like a puppy, with only two modes of being: exhilarated or exhausted. And no, it’s not cute, it’s annoying. (Everyone seems to love him, but it’s hard to tell why.) I know that the author is a 50-something writing an 18-year-old, but he actually comes across like a 12-year-old. The dialogue is very poor, with far too much polemical speechifying. The characters are cardboard cut-outs.
The Lost Cause has what seems to me a fundamental contradiction at its core. It ostensibly proposes a socialist approach to society (and handling the climate crisis) whereby everyone is taken care of and nobody is left behind. And yet this is being led by an individualist hero figure, Brooks. It’s your typical American lone-hero-rises-above-adversity-to-save-the-day. Sure, he gets lots of help, but he is the centre of this universe, the real ‘hero’ of the story. It’s ironic that a novel that sets out to criticise present-day America has a protagonist who is a prime example of the American hero complex. It’s as though Brooks has glimpsed a different way of seeing the world but just hasn’t understood it, being so deeply stuck in the American viewpoint that he cannot see what he is.
In fact, everything about the novel is so ‘American’ that it just feels alien to me, European. The protagonist with the hero complex. The ‘good guys’ vs the ‘evil’ adversaries. The hierarchy of ‘decent ordinary people’ who come together to follow the hero/leader and make it all better (a hierarchy where everyone is equal but some – the Blue Helmets and the activists – are more equal than others), taking care of the ‘poor refus’ (refugees) in a highly paternalistic fashion. The ineffectual politicians who cannot move for fear of political repercussions.
Amusingly, the Democratic party is now known as the Socialist Democrats of America, but I feel they wouldn’t recognise an actual Socialist if one bit them on the leg. Spouting about taking the means of production into your own hands does not a socialist make.
Nobody ever seems to go shopping, but there seem to be endless supplies of high-quality food that just ‘appear’, ready to feed 70 people. Oh there are so many unlikely scenarios that I can’t even begin…
Still…. writing aside, I did get caught up in the story. Most of all, I found myself gazing beyond the story into this frightening future. Really, someone ought to do something about it….
My thanks to Netgalley for giving me a free copy of this book. All my reviews are 100% honest and unbiased, regardless of how I acquire the book.
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