Book Review: The Mandibles, A Family 2029-2047, by Lionel Shriver

The_mandibles_bookOne important rule of thumb about book reviews (I assume) is that you should finish the book before reviewing it. That seems wise. On the other hand, when reviewing a book that seems bad in the first 110 pages, it seems like a waste of time to continue. I read the first part more than a year ago, and figured I’d go back, (I’m a completionist most of the time) but I never did.

This should be the perfect novel for me to enjoy. The author is clearly obsessed with the 2008 Financial Crisis. Me too.1 The premise of Mandibles is that, post-financial crisis, people in the United States lives in a kind of Venezuelan-crisis mode of shortages.

Action takes place in Brooklyn, a place I’ve lived in and loved. Brooklyn, finance…count me in, right?

I did not enjoy Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles, A Family 2029-2046.

Another good rule of thumb (besides the finish-the-book rule) is that if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. Well, sorry. I’ve already broken that many times before in these book reviews.2

The problems I had with the book began early, and continued. They stem directly from the finance theme as well as the Brooklyn-based action. The dialogue about finance is not character dialogue – it’s carefully scripted diatribes about financial theory. This character presents one view on trade and international finance. This other character mouth-pieces the connection between debt and a financial crisis. I suppose if one never reads the paper or took an economics class this would be informative? It’s definitely not believable conversation. Nor is it interesting.

Also, Brooklyn. It should be fun to read satirical takes on what I assume are the author’s neighbors, with their twee styles and overly precious concerns. Who doesn’t like a good satire? Having moved away from Brooklyn a while ago, however, I found the satire and obsession very inward-focused. I kept thinking: Did the author and the editor have a good chuckle over the sendup of preciousness, but then forget that most people don’t live in Brooklyn? Sorry, I found it unfinish-able. Maybe someone can tell me how it ends.

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  1. I’ve written a lot about AIG, and mortgages, and over-indebtedness, and other books about the crisis.
  2.  Including one in which I nominated the worst finance book of all time.

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I founded Bankers Anonymous because, as a recovering banker, I believe that the gap between the financial world as I know it and the public discourse about finance is more than just a problem for a family trying to balance their checkbook, or politicians trying to score points over next year’s budget – it is a weakness of our civil society. For reals. It’s also really fun for me.

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