Friday, May 9, 2014

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack
Light vacation reading by the pool! Vacation was a month ago, deadlines have since taken my typing life over, but better late than never, right?

Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a fictional diary written by Lola, a 12-year-old girl in a sometime-near-future New York. She writes about her posh private school, her concerns when her teacher and screenwriter parents aren't getting enough work, nonchalantly mention the city burning and presidents being assassinated, one after the other. Civil unrest and the consequent police and army response are closing in on the family's apartment while Lola's little sister becomes slowly unresponsive, and both parents battle with their own demons.

Because Lola is twelve, she does not get into the political and economic reasons why the country is burning and terrorized, and why her aunt begs her mother to let the kids join her in her gated community for safety--it's all left for the reader's imagination, which makes it all the more horrifying. The more Lola needs to spend her daily energy on mere survival, the more her writing style deteriorates into street slang, devoid of prescriptivist punctuation rules. She slowly becomes the young people she and all the friends she once had used to loathe.

With all of its disturbing violence and unsettling feel of dread, RASV is a remarkable teacher of empathy. Which is, quite honestly, why I like a lot of science fiction: the stories remove us from our reality, make us read about people and their plight and understand where they are coming from, only to realize that we have in fact been reading about our neighbors all along. Although the novel cannot conclusively explain why people engage in seemingly random acts of senseless violence, we learn about a scenario or two where this could happen: when people need to protect their loved ones; when people are oppressed enough. It is only us, watching it all unfold from our high castles, who think it is random and senseless.

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