Eutopia: a Novel of Terrible Optimism
Don’t read this book. It will scar you. It will disgust you. It will traumatize you.
Oh God, it is so good!
There were moments of squirming discomfort and disbelief at what I was reading. I wanted to shake my first and shout out curse words to the author for putting in words such vile, gross scenes of horror.
But I couldn’t put it down!
The good news? Eutopia: a Novel of Terrible Optimism by David Nickle is written very well. No sloppiness, no laziness. He has his own style of writing which I really enjoyed and caught on quickly to. It is this style in which he writes that adds to the macabre element of some of the characters in this book.
The bad news? It is really gross at times. But yet, the way he describes some of these cringe worthy scenes makes it okay because of his writing style and his way with language. He is quite a poetic writer I must say.
The story takes place in 1911 and centers around 2 characters; Dr. Andrew Waggoner, an African-American doctor living and working in un-friendly times and Jason Thistledown, a 17-year-old who, along with Dr. Waggoner, has to figure out what is going on in the creepy mountain town of Eliada. Eliada is a town started by a rich, industrialist, Garrison Harper. His intention with this town is to create a utopia, the perfect place to live with no crime or worries. He brings to this town certain men whose idea of perfection in humanity raises many an ethical question and eye-brow. This novel weaves in the questionable morality of eugenics. Familiar with that term? Gah, I wish it never existed. Eugenics concerns itself with improving the genetic composition of humans and has a very dark and ugly past. Here are some examples:
- The University of Michigan revealed recently that in 1930’s many women went through forced sterilization in California.
- The Sexual Sterilization Act of Alberta and BC in the 1920’s.
- Forced sterilization in the United States during the American Eugenics movement.
But eugenics wasn’t just practiced in North America, it was practiced everywhere. In fact, its movement continues today, however we now know it by a friendlier term – genetics. This modern movement focuses on spreading the positive message of eliminating disease through genetics and improving our food so its okay guys! But is it? What concerns me about genetics is that the door remains open for us to repeat the mistakes of the past. The problem with eugenics (genetics) is that it is based on human perception and we all know perception is coloured by the person doing the perceiving. Therefore racism can rear its ugly little head in the world of genetics as it relates to humans. This is the stuff made of nightmares which is why David Nickle’s novel is so terrifying.
The dreams of a perfect society by sacrificing a portion of humanity – terrible optimism indeed.
Eutopia is a warning. It’s a warning that we can’t mess with God cause if we do, a strange group of inbred, zealous and religious mountain people will fall upon us and fuck us up. In other words, we mess with the natural order of things and we better be willing to pay the consequences. And there will always be consequences. All we need to do is look at the mess genetically modified seeds and plants are making in our world. They are snuffing out natural and wild species of plants, they are screwing with our insides, they are creating massive and ridiculous lawsuits of which many poor farmers find themselves at the losing end and they now appear to be playing a part in the decimation of our poor bees. To me, this book by Mr. Nickle couldn’t be more timely.
Eutopia is a fast and furious read. Nickle wastes no time in getting to the story but oh man, does he ever tease you in the first few chapters. You know something sinister is afoot and how David Nickle manages to infuse his words right from the get go with an eerie, creepy feeling, I don’t know. But he does it with mastery. And it isn’t all depressing – Dr. Waggoner and Jason represent the best of us. The parts of us that accept others for who they are, despite any shortcomings. They represent innocence and a desire to always do the right thing, even if it means being the only one to stand up for what is right (and having to run like hell away from inbred mountain crazies).