Hystopia by David Means (Man Booker long list)


What we got here is a situation in which the general public is not sure who’s doing the protecting. Some are taking the law into their own hands while others are going mad trying to live up to this so-called Year of Hate thing, and then you have the drugs, of course, and the music.

Just when I think this is the worst time in America ever, I read a book like this and am instantly reminded of life in the late 60s/ early 70s. How well I remember the hippies on the bridge in our town, sitting in a long line with cigarettes in their lips and scorn in their eyes. It frightened me to walk past them in my ankle socks; I was in elementary school, and I barely understood their anger. But, I do remember the families who lost sons and brothers in the Vietnam war. I do remember the flags flying outside of their homes after they received the news that their boys would never come home. Missing in Action. Killed in Action. The uselessness of war. And now we face it all again: the lack of trust in government, the confusion and fear and pain…where does it all go?

Vietnam vet Rake is on a rampage of killing, back in the States, partly because of drugs. Partly because he’s crazy. And then there’s this sentiment from him, “I’m the bad luck brought home. I’m taking the bad luck I had and foisting it on someone else.” How is he to recover from the trauma of being in war?

The government, under Kennedy, has created an enfolding treatment, where the vets can have the trauma of their experiences lifted. (Unless they experience fantastic sex, or being immersed in cold water, then the enfolding reverses itself and carries them back to their original state.) But, that isn’t necessarily a cure either.

…someone who has been through the treatment, who has had the CEP enfolded, is going to feel a desire to unfold. He might think he doesn’t have that desire, and his internal governing system might trick him into feeling assured he is no longer feeling the desire, he’s over the bump, but in truth it’s only natural to want to know the story.

David Means writes a fascinating story, of a time which is quite nostalgic to me as I didn’t have to live through the horrors of it; I was only an observer of those who did. But, more importantly perhaps, this is a story about memory: what it does to us, how we yearn for it and long to run from it at the same time, how what we don’t know is as important, somehow, as what we do.

We not only had too many failed enfolds out there but we also put too much trust in the treatment without understanding that the things we didn’t understand were just as important as those we did. Now we’re  undertaking a review of the entire program, top to bottom.

If it wasn’t so sad, it would make me laugh. Silly government, thinking it can amend for all the wrong it has caused in the people it’s supposed to protect.

The pain of our past is never an easy thing to bear, but it does make us who we are.