Saturday, July 30, 2011

Random Acts of Senseless Violence: A Review

Jack Womack's Random Acts of Senseless Violence is that somewhat rare beast: a completely urban collapse story set in the United States. If North Dakota seems to be slightly overrepresented in these tails, the urban areas are definitely underrepresented. I reviewed Dorris Lessing' completely urban Memoirs of a Survivor but it is in great Britain, and Michell Widgen's But Not for Long is mostly Urban. But other than that I am stumped.

Much like Susan Beth Pfeffer's Life As We Knew It, this is a coming of age book of a young girl in trying times. But it is a little different type of story: to put it mildly. The book is the diary of twelve year old Lola Hart. She lives in New York. City and attends a nice prep school. At the start of the novel her mother is a laid off university professor, and her father is a television screen writer. Under normal circumstances this type of work brings in enough money to live very comfortably in a nice section of Upper Manhattan. But in a shrinking economy they are a a tough way to make a living. And things are not good. In one of Lola's first entries:

(Writing to her diary which she as named Ann) Let me tell you more about myself Anne. As you know I'm twelve, and Boob [sister's nickname] is nine. We were both born in New York at Lennox Hill hospital but our parents are from other places. mama is from Los Angeles adn Daddy is from Chicago. They've taken us to both places on vacation. I don't like Los Angles or Chicago. They're horrible places and I'm glad they're burning down.

Well it all begins to slide from the starting point. But instead of moving to some remote location with 5 gallon buckets of stored wheat, they simply move to worse locations in more dangerous sections of the city. The parents struggle to find whatever work they can get, and this leaves Lola to her own devices.

Lola begins to hang out with some of the young black women in her neighborhood. The book does not hide from racial issues: some of the black's hate her because of her skin color and upbringing, other are more accommodating. As time goes on, she begins to hang out with them, and her own behavior begins to change.

This is set against a back drop of military enforcement of martial law, and rioting. What plight of the lower classes, and those so unfortunate to fall into them in these trying circumstances is well highlighted.

The book dates back to 1993, which is somewhat within the height of racial tensions in the big urban cities. The Clinton boom years have not occurred yet, and the slide into economic decay reads somewhat like a slower version of today's books that have slides into social decay. The book is written in an odd "urban" slang that can get a little annoying. The action is very much interspersed with reflection: she is writing in a diary after all. The speed and some aspects of the change seem a little unlikely. The author seems to be taking the cyncial liberal democratic view of the reality of the time. It is a bit dated. It is a bit one-sided, but no more so then your typical after-the-apocalypse-libertarian rants that are fairly common.

I am not sure I would call it an enjoyable read, but it certainly was interesting.

Jack Womack hanging out.

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