would you cope if you never had to work a day in your life but suddenly
you lost everything? What would you do? For the Mandible family, that
situation occurred in 2029, when the world economy shifted, sending the
United States into a tailspin.
"Don't use clean water to wash your hands!"—The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver (Harper, 2016, p. 3; uncorrected proof)
Intended as a gentle reminder, the admonishment came out shrill. Florence didn't want to seem like what her son would call a boomerpoop, but still—the rules of the household were simple. Esteban consistently flouted them. There were ways of establishing that you weren't under any (somewhat) older woman's thumb without wasting water. He was such a crippling handsome man that she'd let him get away with almost anything else.
- Setting: the future: 2029 to 2047, New York City and upstate New York
- Circumstances: Thanks to a cyber-attack and foreign politics,
the world economy fundamentally changes, and the United States fails to
follow along. As a result the dollar is worth little, people are no
longer allowed to own gold, and the government has reneged on its
treasury bonds. Thus the Mandible family, which had still been living
off the money an ancestor had accumulated in the nineteenth century, are
now essentially broke. How do they react to their changing
circumstances? Can they adapt or are they doomed?
- Genre, style: literary fiction, family saga, dystopian elements, satire
- Themes: the economy, class differences, generational divides, family, social commentary
- Characters: Basically four generations of Mandibles from the 90-year-old patriarch to adolescent children, plus their spouses and partners and other people who affect their lives
- Why I want to read this: Although Shriver doesn't focus on happy themes, she is an astute observer of our society. The book's premise sounds all too possible and is set only a handful of years in the future. Could the events in The Mandibles happen? Probably. Yikes!
- What reviewers have said: Most reviewers agree that Shriver is spot on when it comes to her characters and world building. They also agree that the novel has a bit of a slow start because there is so much to set up before the meat of the story can be reached. In addition, reviewers commented on Shriver's imaginative creation of future slang and swear words. Finally, pretty much all agreed that The Mandibles is worth the read, even if a bit slow in spots.