Nodding Off to Too Much Shock Value

ShortcakeShortcake by Christopher Gorham Calvin

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

At times, I envy the Margaret Atwoods, George Orwells, and Jonathan Swifts of our literary profession. While cynicism is often so corrosive that it produces bitterness, the anger that it generates can lead to powerful writing that serves as a corrective for many of the ills of society. When Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” delivered a rhetorical roundhouse to the British establishment, with its suggestion that the poor infants of the Irish be prepared for slaughter rather than be forced to endure the privations of life in an unfair, oppressive economic system, the very nature of writing changed, as sarcasm became a mode of discourse.

Several hundred years later, as the depravity inherent in the clouds of mustard gas in the Great War, the speculative greed that fueled the Great Depression, the destructive might that turned Hiroshima and Nagasaki into rubble, and the slow constriction of freedom that ensued after V-J and V-E Days, as the increases in technology and information created more for government to control, the dystopian voices that informed “The Handmaiden,” “1984,” and a wealth of other dystopian visions burst onto the scene. While the first instances of this trend were popular, it is unlikely that their authors thought that their successors, such as Suzanne Collins, would find their works had become bestsellers, or that the dark truths that inform dystopian writing would become mass entertainment.

The flocks of dystopian trilogies (yes, Hunger Games, I’m talking to you)that are sashaying into the public spotlight and garnering hordes of increasingly younger fans are, as any form of shock value does, starting to lose their edge. Oppressive government engaging in secret espionage to control/terrify/oppress/harass the innocent? Heard it. Seen it. The idea that the government has a secret program that might end the human race as we know it? Already know that movie.

Into this morass bravely steps Christopher Gorham Calvin’s “Shortcake,” the first in a planned trilogy detailed the story of “Evan” and “Amanda,” a pair of children genetically modified to have superhuman powers of violence, but who ultimately team up to change the world, after a brief encounter with a violently annoying mass murderer, a brutally apathetic mayor, a secret prison stocked with animals who are supposed to kill any human inhabitants, and many other surprises.

By the time Amanda and Evan find each other, after they’ve escaped their cloning facility, the city of Eden has almost collapsed into ruin. The wordy description and the questionable motives that follow them (not to mention the unrealistic survivor of at least one ally, and the unforeseeable sympathy from a soldier, the “twins” have dragged us through several hundred pages…and apparently resolved nothing, as this is only Book I. It will require some persuasion for me to put aside some of the other promising books in my reading list to have the time for Book II.

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