Friday, September 17, 2010

Snowball's chance, a book review

Last year, as he was studying George Orwell's Animal Farm in school, Damian told me he'd heard of a book called Snowball's Chance, a parody sequel that was a send-up of capitalism. It took me a while, but I finally ordered the book for him. Since it came this weekend, when he's away climbing a mountain, I read it first.

Sad to say, I was disappointed. John Reed, the author, is a New York resident who wrote Snowball's Chance in a two-week frenzy just after the Twin Towers fell. For some reason, in the midst of that traumatic time, he conceived a strong aversion to George Orwell, blaming him for a Cold War mentality that, in his view, led people in the West to make wrong-headed choices that unleashed environmental degradation, inequality, and war. I think this interpretation is woolly-headed, worthy of Orwell's sheep: after all, what Orwell tried to do was to speak out against Soviet totalitarian communism in order to allow true socialism to have a chance.

The premise of Snowball's Chance is intriguing and sounds as if it's going to be fun. Snowball (Trotsky), chased off and vilified in Animal Farm by the Stalinist Napoleon, returns after Napoleon's death to transfifure the farm into a capitalist heaven. He changes the Animal Farm slogan from its degradedform - "Most animals are equalish" - to the much more Republican-sounding, "All animals are born equal. What they become is their own affair." But what in fact he establishes is a kind of crony capitalism.

The book starts off in a promising enough manner, as the animals once again alter their view of history and truth to embrace the New Farm Order. But soon the themes become heavy-handed. Pollution and garbage dumps besmirch the landscape, a crime wave rolls in, industrial accidents claim lives, consumerism makes the farm animals fat and lazy, and immigrant animals are given the worst jobs and made to live in slums. The animals build two more windmills, called the Twin Mills. Animal Farm becomes Animal Fair, glitzy, trashy, and so costly that the residents have to take out loans, introduce a cash economy, pay taxes and utility bills, and forget their farming roots.

Meanwhile, in a side plot that I found more intriguing, beavers in the forest nurse their grievances, remembering a mythical time of beaver ascendance and steaming over the way the greedy inhabitants of Animal Farm steal their woodland home's main resource, water. Moses the Raven, who tried to lull the creatures of Animal Farm with his visions of Sugarcandy Mountain, regales the beavers with tales of Sugarcandy Lodestar, where beavers who die in service of the ancient Beaver Code will be rewarded with 1600 virgin saplings. So much for subtlety.

The story hurtles to an inevitable clash- complete with self-immolating squirrels and a highjacked Ferris wheel plowing into the Twin Mills. Snowball's Chance ends with the farm animals urging one another to take a violent revenge.

All of this is good enough, but it's clumsily done. I suppose the heavily sentimental depiction of Benjamin the donkey may be meant to parody Orwell's sentimentality in portraying the faithful horse Boxer. In the same way, Reed exaggerates Orwell's rather distant reportorial voice, but he takes it too far. There are too many sentences like this one: "Yet, apparent as it may have seemed that the security of the Twin Mills had been compromised, the pigs argued persuasively that Mr. Frederick was already under court order not to set foot on Animal Farm-and, that the legal (hence financial) repercusions of either him or Pilkington sallying forth a single toe onto the grounds would be so severe as to thwart even the most stalwart enemy."

So I was disappointed. In an interview on Wikinews, Reed indicates that Animal Farm had its fifty years of relevance, but is now out of date, speaking from an outdated Cold War paradigm. Snowball's Chance is much more up to date, but I wager it's Animal Farm schoolkids and adults alike will still be reading fifty years from now.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...