Book of the Week: The Mandibles – Lionel Shriver

Reading this novel it finally dawned on me that Shriver—author of the provocative and best-selling We Need to Talk about Kevin­­—often writes cultural thought experiments in the form of novels. Kevin, of course, shocked readers with its examination of a teen school shooter and his family. So Much for That contemplated the human and financial cost of the American health care system; Big Brother looked at the effect of the obesity crisis on a family.

In The Mandibles Shriver takes on the American economy—specifically what happens to one upper middle class family when a currency crisis radically devalues the dollar. If it sounds gruesome, believe me it is. But it’s also enormously clever, savagely funny—and scarily instructive. There’s a certain kind of mad genius at play when an author can make you laugh out loud even as the characters walk you through economic theory and its unnerving real world implications. I couldn’t avert my eyes. 🙂

The book is already being reviewed in England where the Economist calls it “a powerful work….Prescient, imaginative and funny.” The Guardian expands on that praise and mirrors my own assessment:

But for all the sharp-edged comedy (a thriving Mexico builds a border wall to keep out desperate illegal Americans), and for all that it ends with a knowing Orwellian wink, The Mandibles is a profoundly frightening portrait of how quickly the agreed rules of society can fall apart without money to grease the wheels. I finished it and immediately started stockpiling toilet paper.”

Advance reviews in the U.S. have likewise been good; hopefully with many more reviews and readers to come for this satiric cautionary tale.

“From immigration reform to international monetary policy, there is not an aspect of contemporary culture that award-winning novelist and journalist Shriver (Big Brother, 2013) leaves on the cutting-room floor. This is a sharp, smart, snarky satire of every conspiracy theory and hot button political issue ever spun; one that, at first glance, might induce an absurdist chuckle, until one realizes that it is based on an all-too-plausible reality.
Booklist (starred review)

 With wit and insight, Shriver details the impact of this new era on the Mandible clan, who are forced to come together to weather the crisis….What’s remarkable about the Mandibles is how poorly they adapt to the new normal, perhaps with the exception of Florence’s son, Willing, a teenager with prodigious knowledge of macroeconomics and a dismal…Shriver’s imaginative novel works as a mishmash of literary fiction and dystopian satire.”
— Publishers Weekly

 “Shriver, nobody’s idea of an optimist about the present day, delivers a dire vision of near-future America…[a] savvy commingling of apocalyptic and polemic.”
— Kirkus Reviews

 “It’s often the case that fantastic fiction makes for a terrifying reality, and Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles is the perfect example of a book that thrilled me to read, but scared the pants off me to imagine as real life….Able to get my heart racing, even over the driest economics, Shriver makes it all too easy to picture an America held hostage by its own currency, made useless overnight by international powers. It is even easier to see myself as one of the Mandibles, a family that has every single economic safety net, and yet must now scramble to survive. Shriver writes with both a relentlessness imagination and an omniscient eye, and the message is clear: when money is God, no one is safe and nothing is sacred. This book may one day be your survival guide!”
— Lillian Li, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 (9780062328243) by Lionel Shriver. $27.99 hardcover. 6/21/16 on sale.

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