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Author:Grant Bailie
Release Date:2008
Publisher:Ig Publishing

By Raymond Cummings | Posted 3/26/2008

Ig Publishing, paperback

You must be willing to swallow a couple of premises to appreciate Mortarville truly: 1) that the brave new world to come looks much like the present, 2) that there's nothing disappointing about the idea of scientists in secret government labs creating test-tube babies for no apparent purpose beyond populating the world outside, 3) that a young man raised on episodic television in a hidden underground bunker could be integrated into contemporary society with a vocabulary, personality, and frame of reference roughly equal to that of Dave Eggers circa 1997 or so, and 4) that said young man possesses a memory so complete that he's able to recall events and conversations from his youth, infancy, and even before with a frightening clarity.

Grant Bailie holds a mirror up to a crumbling 2008 America here. The reality he presents is a gray and dying one, where a war is being fought somewhere, jobs are disappearing and disorder fills the void, urban infrastructure is falling apart, conception in a petri dish by two male scientists is boring, and the process of being reared underground with other insolent experiments is like being stuck in a particularly brutish orphanage. After a handful of aborted escapes, protagonist John Smith is freed--not to glory as some sort of Captain America-esque superweapon, but to a humdrum existence as a lead mall security guard. While remembering his adolescence, Smith is painfully aware of what a letdown the plot is: "Maybe my fathers would resurrect themselves from the ashes and save me, or I would suddenly develop the ability to fly, shoot deadly eye-beams, or climb up walls."

They don't, and he doesn't--unless these things happen after the tackily contrived climax Bailie engineers; a gorilla named Abigail is involved. Mortarville's topical pleasures come when the writer sends Smith off on deadpan or word-drunk soliloquies, such as this one about his viewing regimen: "There were always the husband's doomed schemes, the wife's thwarted ambitions, the friend of questionable morality. There were misunderstandings of fidelity, sexuality, and motives. There were family vacations to Hawaii where the family luggage is mixed-up with the suitcase of a bungling pair of secret agents." On a deeper level, though, the book registers as an indictment of modern North American life, as the hopes, dreams, and delusions of a test-tube dude ultimately sound no less ludicrous than those of real people living real lives in a country that's going to pieces at an ever-accelerating speed.

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