Family affection lies at the root of a well-ordered society. It is one of the few good things which has survived the fall, and prevent men and women from being mere devils. It is the secret oil on the wheels of our social system which keeps the whole machine going, and without which the power of the machine is useless. ~ J.C. RyleWhen I came across that J.C. Ryle quote in my reading this past week, I knew it would be a good way to introduce Fatherless, a new novel by James Dobson and Kurt Bruner.
First sentence: I didn't expect the person killing me to yawn in boredom.
Fatherless paints a disturbing portrait of the future. The novel is set in 2042. The United States is in near-crisis. The majority of the population is old, past the working-and-contributing-age; the burden of medical treatment, of day-to-day care, is stressing the economy. Working adults find it difficult to keep a job and take care of their parents. Their place in the workplace is deemed critical. And hiring someone to parent-sit can be expensive. The burden is especially difficult on the poor, the rich can always afford what's necessary. So in the past decade or so, transitions have become the new norm. For any "debit" in society, for those who cost society more than what they contribute, those who may be older or those who may have physical disabilities or mental limitations. They can truly help their families, help society, help their country by choosing to transition--to transition from life to death. Government is making the idea of transitioning sound so noble, so heroic, so necessary. (Many transitions even include organ donation.) The novel begins and ends with readers getting a glimpse of the transition process. (The first is a paralyzed young man, just turned eighteen. The last is a senior citizen, a mother pressured into it by her son.)
Julia Davidson is a journalist struggling to maintain her place near the top. She has written some incredible stories in the past. Her name has meant something. She has been a somebody. But now other reporters are getting the "big" stories, and Julia finds herself stuck with a weekly column of little significance. But her boss is giving her one last chance.
Kevin Tolbert and his wife, Angie, are "breeders" in a time when it is socially questionable to get married (and stay married) and have children (yes, multiple children). To have a child in wedlock? To have more than one child? Women who are mothers are thought to be extremists, absurd, out of touch with liberated reality. Babies are a burden, always have been, always will be. To have more than one child--at most--is to be oppressed.
Julia Davidson PITIES her old high school friend, Angie. The only reason she's seeking out this old acquaintance is because Angie's husband, Kevin Tolbert, is an up-and-coming politician. Julia has been assigned to write a story about Tolbert's political ideas and policies which are being introduced to a committee. Her paper wants to spin the story so that his conservative ideas are rightly labeled ridiculous, absurd, outrageous, extreme. He has found "bright spots" in the U.S. economy. There are small regions or communities that are doing better than the nation as a whole. The differences between these bright spots and the rest of the nation are higher birth rates (more families having children) and fewer transitions (they're not encouraging their senior citizens to do the right thing and go ahead and die). The idea being that these communities value human life more.
There are multiple stories in Fatherless and many protagonists. Some are Christian; many are not. The book is religious AND political. It goes tough places and asks hard questions. It examines long-term ethics or consequences of some things happening today. For example, hostility towards religion and deeming people of faith, people who hold to the Bible, as being extremists. This book seemed to eerily connect with UnChristian. Another example: the deterioration of the family, of fathers not staying around long enough to parent their children.
Fatherless is heartbreaking and thought-provoking. The Matthew-and-his-mother story line was so disturbing and heartbreaking! Fatherless may not be a flawless novel, weaknesses could be spotted here and there, but it has many strengths as well. (One weakness, perhaps, is the info-dumping.) I enjoyed having multiple points of view. Julia was a broken heroine, troubled with nightmares, struggling in her personal and professional life, clinging to her worldview with fierce determination. But Julia was quite human as well: she has a close relationship with her nephew, and, she is longing for satisfaction of her own. She finds Kevin's friend, Troy, so intriguing though their world-views are so very different from one another. (Troy is a newish Christian). Matthew's brokenness is equally obvious. His searching for spiritual enlightenment and finding it in all the wrong places was so heartbreaking.
Troy to Julia:
Imagine a world of people trying to out-serve, out-love, out-sacrifice, and out-honor one another. Sure beats a world of people trying to outdo and outsmart one another. Don't you think? (238)Julia's politics:
Didn't one's unalienable rights include controlling one's own body, choosing one's own offspring, and ending one's own existence? (260)Kevin Tolbert:
We live in a world where the weak and scrawny have little choice but to play by rules set by the big and powerful. By those who rig the game against the dignity of human life. (373)Julia and Kevin in conversation:
"What kind of choices do you want them to make?" Julia tried to sound sympathetic.© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible
"Natural, commonsense choices," he replied. "Like getting married and raising a family. Like protecting the dignity of aging citizens rather than making them feel guilty every time they take another breath. Like protecting our disabled rather than labeling them worthless debits." (373)