Odd. Anthropological. Fable.
About Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City by Choire Sicha: What will the future make of us? In one of the greatest cities in the world, the richest man in town is the Mayor. Billionaires shed apartments like last season’s fashion trends, even as the country’s economy turns inside out and workers are expelled from the City’s glass towers. The young and careless go on as they always have, getting laid and getting laid off, falling in and falling out of love, and trying to navigate the strange world they traffic in: the Internet, complex financial markets, credit cards, pop stars, microplane cheese graters, and sex apps.
A true-life fable of money, sex, and politics, Very Recent History follows a man named John and his circle of friends, lovers, and enemies. It is a book that pieces together our every day, as if it were already forgotten.
My two centsThis is a fable about a great city – in all its success, glory and grittiness, its hustle and bustle, and what makes it tick – and it's economic downturn. We also follow a group of young gay men who call this great city home, take a peek into their professional and personal lives, and how they are affected by the changing economic tides.
***I struggled with this one; in fact it bordered on painful, reminding me of school days when I had to slog through chapters and chapters of a textbook. Overall, the writing felt sterile, clinical and tedious. I felt totally detached from the characters and I couldn't relate to them. When I made it through the halfway mark, I sighed and wondered if I should even continue. But continue I did, hoping for the payoff.
Did my payoff come? Well, there were glimpses of it. For one, this book had quite a lot of insightful (oftentimes snarky) commentary on politics, money, power, marriage, sex (particularly gay sex), and the growing role of the Internet in people's social lives (those who love their internet and their apps will snicker at the subtle name dropping). See all the hot buttons? Maybe one these will intrigue you enough to get you to read it.
I also thought that the concept for the book was intriguing. It is meant to be an "anthropological account" of the year 2009 - meant to "enlighten" someone of the future of this present - which explains why the author seems to be talking about very mundane everyday things to someone far removed from these realities or maybe a teacher talking to a bunch of very young kids. That's why the beginning felt so drawn out as it involved breaking down of things.
Check out some snippets and my reactions:
A homeless man described as "a man who did not have a home, and whose practice of employment was that he would ask passersby for money." (first page)Ok, a little snarky, and this sort of thing was fun at times. There was a lot of this throughout the book, and I mean a lot!
"The idea of a distinct unit of money was, at that time, a little more than 5,000 years old, as near as can be told. The idea of precious metals being used as currency was maybe 2,500 years old. The idea of a piece of paper standing in a for a set value was almost 1,000 years old." (p. 33, ARC page may change)This goes on for a few more pages describing the concept of money, the different things that were used as money – gold, silver, shells - and the concepts of banking, hoarding, and how government regulated money. Somewhat interesting but too much of this and my mind was rebelling because it was textbookish; I skipped over a few of these so-called "anthropological vignettes."
"In any event these two were in love, and so they pledged to spend their lives together until they died. Or until they didn't want to be married anymore – that was currently legitimate as well. The whole "until you die" thing might have been a leftover thing that people said because they were supposed to." (p. 185, ARC page may change)Oof! True! Now that's insightful!
I was rather disappointed in the characters. For one, I thought that the book would explore a diversity of characters as is befitting a huge bustling city; instead it focused on gay men and that subculture, highlighting their sexual exploits and their loose relationships. I found it a little worriesome that the characters simply reinforces stereotypes of the gay community; I find that surprising since it seems this will be marketed to the LGBT niche as per the back cover. (Do I read too much into this? I suspect not being from the target audience for this book maybe the reason why all the nuances and details may have simply lost on me).
I couldn't feel any connection with any of the characters and their generic names of John, Jason, Tyler, made them all feel the same to me. I found the dialogues clipped (a succession and excessive use of "said, said, said" and one character with a cutesy "like, like, like"), which were sometimes a little grating, and frankly, simply just not appealing to me.
The book touts to "piece[s] together our every day, as if it were already forgotten." If someone 10 generations in the future read this, I'm afraid they'd think that one of our "great" cities was populated mainly with gay men looking to hook up online and sleep around.
Verdict: Built on an innovative concept with glimpses of insightful social commentary, the payoff never really came for me. This felt like such a mishmash that my head was sort of spinning, and I don't think I really got my bearings. Those who like unique or experimental stories will most probably enjoy this, even revel in it! Give it a go, it may be up your alley!
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