Book Quote:

“Alejandro del Grande, the Macedonian, who I read about in the detention center library during study hours…

Alejandro ascended to the throne at just eleven years of age after the assassination of his father, Felipe. It was never clear who assassinated his father. But I knew…

..there was no question. He was not a boy. He was a King.

Book Review:

Review by Bill Brody  AUG 8, 2011)

James Boice’s The Good and the Ghastly takes place 1500 years from now, after nuclear Armageddon has wiped out most of civilization. There are very few survivors in this blasted world where the oceans have risen high enough to flood much of the world’s low lying areas. Civilization has been rebuilt based on scanty and flagrantly wrong fragments of lore. Palin, for example, is the doyen of natural selection. All products are named by a status-linked phrase such as Visa Expensive Hotel. Visa is the generic term for government or other organizations or corporations.

There are two protagonists. The major actor is Junior Alvarez, a brutal “Irish” psychopath and paranoid with delusions of grandeur. He likens himself to Alexander the Great and Bob Dylan from warped “histories” that get little more than the names correct. As a teen-ager Junior beats another teen-ager so savagely in a mass gang fight that his opponent never recovers consciousness, forcing his loving mother to devote all of her time to his care. The mother, Josephina Hernandez, loving “Italian” mother, is the secondary protagonist. She becomes an avenging angel determined to wipe out the criminal monsters who have made her world a hell. Junior is her ultimate target, albeit incredibly difficult to tackle.

We are witness to the inner life of two driven characters, Junior and Josephina. They are skillfully rendered in poetic and compelling language, so beautiful that the reader is swept along in spite of the bestial and psychotic nature of the one and the awful pain of the other. Neither is quite sane. Both are purveyors of violence. Junior becomes a fugitive hero. Josephina passes unremarked except by the results of her executions.

The novel would have been stronger if Josephina were made more of an equal partner. As it is, she disappears for much of the time while Junior is a constant, always trying to present a benign face to the public while in fact being as violent and cruel a betrayer as to serve for the model of a nightmare. The novel achieves great heights in the poetic rendering of the inner lives of these two profoundly disturbed characters.

Why is it set in the far future; wouldn’t a setting in any major slum suffice? The answer to this question lies in how this novel casts a light on history itself and how it shows current society in the distorted mirror of satire. Post-apocalyptic fiction doesn’t need to posit new science, letting the author off the hook in that regard. The situation presents an opportunity to examine people under severe stress and with severed connections to anything pre-apocalypse. The disconnection from the historical past presents this author with much material for satire. We can smugly dismiss the historical errors by the characters in the story. As Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We know that the future civilization in this novel will surely repeat our errors from the past since their memory of the past is so clearly flawed. As the novel comes to its conclusion I was led to wonder if we remember our past any more accurately than Junior. Was, for example, Alexander a psychotic monster as Junior believes from his (mis)reading of history, a role model for Junior showing him the way to betray virtually all his friends and lovers? Do we really know much of anything beyone a couple of generations ago? Post-apocalyptic dystopian literature is such a lovely way to exercise pessimism!

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 6 readers
PUBLISHER: Scribner (June 14, 2011)
REVIEWER: Bill Brody
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:


August 8, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Speculative (Beyond Reality)

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.