I turned the last page on this gut-twisting dystopic novel, authored by ex-politico Joe McGinniss Jr., yesterday while cramped in an airplane, headed west, and I felt trapped. I couldnâ€™t get the amoral world of artificial sexuality and economic exploitation, set (surprise, surprise) in Vegas, out of my mind. And a question kept buzzingâ€”like the neon found all over that rough cityâ€”in my brain: why do we read?
If we read, if I read, to learn somethingâ€”than this novel has failed me. I learned nothing new about sex or the quarterlife crisis or exploitation. What I already knew was exaggerated and put in my face in freakish proportions, but it was not new (it may be new to an older reader). If we read to be inspired, uplifted, called-to-action then hot damn has this novel failed me. It was so depressing near the end that part of me wanted to just shut it and shove it in the seat pocket in front of me, not waste another precious minute of my life feeling so sad. But if we read to be moved, to feel something potently and undeniably, than the novel has succeeded.
It reminded me of the underbelly of life, the depraved desperate nature of being poor and having access to quick, easy, self-obliterating money, of adolescence at its worst and most dangerous, of human beings trapped in mediocrity and even cruelty by their own anemic hearts and anxious minds. This section, for me, sums up the tone and content of the The Delivery Man:
Chase canâ€™t sleep but heâ€™s too tired to sketch so he watches the KLAS news: seven dead coyotes hanging from a clothesline in the backyard of a house in Henderson. A man tells the reporter that heâ€™s doing his part to keep the children safe. Chase sips a Corona and turns off the television during a story about teenagers assaulting tourists at the MGM Grand. With the TV off thereâ€™s only the sound of the air conditioner humming as Chase spends hours online. He Googles the name of the artist he read about last month in the New York Times because sometimes reading about him motivates Chase, though more often than not, it overwhelms and depresses him, which automatically pushes him towards porn sites, and while masturbating to the stuff he downloads, he wonders why are these girls doing this and why are they all so young?
It also points to one of the things I found most flawed about this otherwise wildly brave, if not totally depressing novelâ€¦the female characters were often hopelessly two dimensional. Chase, the delivery man himself, has to ask these questions because the novelist has not answered them for him, or the readers, in any substantive way. He has peeled back the sunburned surface of Chase, revealing his turbulent and self-sabotaging inner life, but he has done little to go beyond the fake tits and text messaging of his female characters.
I imagine that Joe, the author, is the kind of guy who prides himself on loving and respecting women, on seeing them as complicated creatures (he reached out to feministing, after all), so I have a feeling this was an unintended mix-up between the artifice of the setting and the artifice of souls. Itâ€™s just too bad that it was the most exploited characters in the novel that also got short shrift from him.
Next up is The Courage to Teach by Parker Palmer and then Searching for Angela Shelton , the film, and Finding Angela Shelton, the book.