Monday, May 06, 2019

Reading Unwind Chapters 5-10

This sections gets a little more into world-building. Not convincing world-building, mind you.

Chapter Five

An entirely unnecessary point of view switch, though I guess it does give us some world-building.

You'll remember we left off with our three main characters, Connor, Risa, and Lev, fleeing from the scene of the accident.

This chapter (with the title "Cop") is from the point of view of a single police officer who chases them into the woods. We get a look at his thoughts about Unwind kids who try to run away:

He knows AWOL Unwinds will not give up as long as there’s an ounce of consciousness left in them. They are high on adrenaline, and often high on illegal substances as well. Nicotine, caffeine, or worse. He wishes his bullets were the real thing. He wishes he could truly take these wastes-of-life out rather than just taking them down. Maybe then they wouldn’t be so quick to run—and if they did, well, no great loss. 
This is going to be part of Schusterman's Big Theme, which is that this new world was created to make life more sacred, but has actually cheapened life.

And I mean, that makes sense. A world where parents were allowed to sell off their 13 year olds to the organ factory would be a fucked up world.

But I can't help seeing a covert "pro-life" message here, given that this is one of the arguments made often by anti-choice people. Their claim is that pro-choice people see life as disposable, and that abortion and birth control have created a generation that sees life as cheap and degraded. I've seen arguments that the pro-choice worldview has led to school shootings, for example.

(This is deeply ironic, obviously, given that it's "Pro-life" people who are adamantly opposed to such things as food stamps, socialized medicine, universal daycare, and every other social good which might help people and their children survive. Pro-fetus /= Pro-life.)

Anyway, the eeeevil cop is ambushed by Connor, who steals his tranquilizer gun and knocks him out.

So not a very good cop, apparently.

Chapter Six

Back to Lev's point of view. Connor has tied him to a tree with some handy vines (what?) and is refusing to release him, since he knows Lev will run right back and surrender himself to be Unwound if he does.

This part seems odd. I guess Schusterman wants to start build up Connor as our hero, someone who -- unlike his culture -- sees all life as sacred. Thus even though he doesn't know Lev, and even though Lev clearly wants to be Unwound, and even though that's a religious choice on Lev's point, Connor Knows Best, and will imprison him to keep him alive.

But in fact this doesn't mesh with the Connor as we've met him. That Connor didn't have enough foresight to stay out of trouble when he knew his life was at risk, didn't care about his parents or his sibling, didn't care about getting the girl he supposedly loved in big trouble (putting her at risk of being Unwound), and wasn't clever enough to leave his phone behind. But now he understands (intuitively, I guess?) that All Life Is Sacred.

If Connor was keeping Lev a prisoner because he knew Lev would betray them all, this would make much more sense. But nope.

Lev decides to play along and pretend to be grateful for their help. Then he'll run as soon as he has the chance.

Chapter Seven

This chapter starts out with the Connor we've come to know:

Connor should have kept the Juvey-cop’s gun, but he wasn’t thinking. He was so freaked out at having tranq’d a cop with his own weapon, he just dropped it and ran—just as he dropped his backpack on the interstate so he could carry Lev. His wallet with all his money was in that pack. Now he has nothing but pocket lint. 

We also find out that Lev bit Connor at some point, and that the bite on his arm is becoming infected.

Also, that Connor thinks Risa is pretty. You will never guess why:

Risa’s pretty. Not in the way Ariana was pretty—in a better way. Ariana’s prettiness was all about makeup and pigment injections and stuff. Risa has a natural kind of beauty. 
Ah, yes. The 'natural' kind of pretty that guys 'really' like.

I hope you can hear my eyes rolling from way over here.

Also in this chapter we hear about some mythic Unwind, Humphrey Dunfree, who kids "everywhere" tell stories about. We don't get the stories here. Shusterman makes us wait.

Chapter Eight

Nothing happens, except we learn people in this world litter a lot. Also, Connor and Risa flirt with each other, more or less. It's not very interesting flirting.

Chapter Nine

Now we're in the point of view of a 'mother' (that's her entire identity, Schusterman doesn't even give her a name, mother is all she is) who has just given birth to a child. Apparently on her own, I guess in this alley.

I mean, I know that happens, especially with adolescents (this one is 19) who don't want to be pregnant. But despite what (some) people claim, giving birth to a child isn't 'natural' and it isn't easy. It's a dangerous business, and a 19 year old giving birth to a child on their own would be a horror show, not no-big-deal.

The 19 year old passes a dumpster on the way out of the alley and thinks about how in the past she would have been tempted to toss her baby in that.

There was a time, shortly after the Bill of Life was passed, that Dumpsters such as that would be tempting to girls like her. Desperate girls who would leave unwanted newborns in the trash. It had become so common that it wasn’t even deemed newsworthy anymore—it had become just a part of life. Funny, but the Bill of Life was supposed to protect the sanctity of life. Instead it just made life cheap.

Luckily, there's a new law called "The Storking Initiative." Basically, people can abandon their infants on any doorstep they please, and the people who live in the house legally have to adopt the infant.

This sheds new light on Lev's parents. You'll remember they had several kids who were 'storked.' I thought this meant they adopted kids of their own free will. But not so. Adoption is as forced as pregnancy and childbirth are in this world.

The 'mother' leaves her infant on a doorstep and staggers off.

If they catch her, she’s obliged to keep the baby—that’s part of the Storking Initiative too—but if they open the door and find nothing but the child, it’s “finder’s keepers” in the eyes of the law. Whether they want it or not, the baby is legally theirs. 
This is so obviously a recipe for disaster that I can't believe Schusterman thought for a second this part of the worldbuilding would be convincing. Force people not related to a child to adopt a child against their will -- one they can't afford and don't want. What do you think happens next?

I mean, we know what happened historically in this situation. There was an entire industry of 'baby farms' where parents sent their own children that they didn't want and couldn't afford, knowing that 9 out of 10 infants died on these farms. Not to mention what happened in Romania when Nicolae Ceausescu made both abortion and contraception illegal.

But here in the Unwind world it's going to be different somehow?

Schusterman adds a tiny sermon as the 'mother' flees the scene:

As she hurries down the street, she thinks how wonderful it is that she can get a second chance. How wonderful it is that she can dismiss her responsibility so easily. 

See, you slut, if you have sex, you have to be punished with a baby. Using contraception, or abortion, to prevent or end an unwanted pregnancy? That's just irresponsible. If we don't punish women with children for the crime of having sex, why, who knows what will happen to Our Society?

Chapter 10

We find out Risa is good at conning people out of food and clothing, which is better than Connor's plan -- he was just going to steal shit.

They need new clothing so they can disguise themselves, since they're now fugitives. And felons, as Lev points out:

“We’re not perps,” says Connor, “we’re AWOLs.” 
“We’re felons,” says Lev. “Because what you’re doing— I mean, what we’re doing—is a federal crime.” 
“What, stealing clothes?” asks Connor. 
“No, stealing ourselves. Once the unwind orders were signed, we all became government property.
It's another eeevil government plot.

Which is another problem I have with books like this -- governments are always eeeevil. And that's what most adolescents grow up thinking, because of these books and because of the GOP: government = evil.

Lack of government is the real evil. Governments sometimes fuck up, and sometimes they are run by evil men (cf Nicolae Ceausescu), but government itself is a necessity, and the only way we can stave off disaster, prevent the tragedy of the commons, and keep robber-barons from devouring us all.

Though, obviously, when the robber-barons buy the government, as is happening these days, you've got a different sort of problem.

But eeeevil government is such a tired trope. Please can we have better villains please.

More later


Anonymous said...

Thank you for summarizing this so I do not have to read it. WHY WAS IT REQUIRED IN SCHOOL?????????

delagar said...

It was for their English literature class. They also read Merchant of Venice and Antigone and several other actual classics, but yeah, this was their novel.

They also read Ayn Rand's Anthem, as I recall. SMH.