I never had to read Joseph Heller’s “Catch 22” in high school but chances are if it had been assigned I wouldn’t probably wouldn’t have finished reading it. The novel is a too-long absurdist, occasionally funny, often sickening accurate and poignant, novel set during the Second World War, of a bunch of men screaming louder and louder because no one is listening them, while sexually assaulting most of Italy.
Weaving throughout the narrative exploration of a myriad of damaged soldiers is the emotional and psychological cost of toxic masculinity, on those wallowing in it as well as to everyone they come in contact with.
The greatest expression here of this cultural malignancy is the bureaucracy of war; whereas war is wage to provide a hierarchy for men to exploit one another, and that bureaucracy is then maintained to continue to wage a futile and pointless war that creates victims as much in those who are bombed as those who are bombing. Perhaps those who order the bombings can be said to be immune to the effects of this culture and the war it wages in reality, but they most certainly have a form letter explaining to “Mrs., Mr., Miss, or Mr. and Mrs. —” that it is they who are the real victims in all of this.
But I also have to wonder how the new Hulu adaption of the book will address the cultural and sexual shortcomings of the book in today’s Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Or will that charming and wistful reminiscing of the good old days when a fraternity gang raped two underage girls be excised entirely from the retelling?
It’s certainly a difficult book to read, and one difficult to say was enjoyed, despite the humorous moments. But for its stark, absurd illustration of the power of communication, miscommunication and misdirection to corrupt and damn, and the effects of war, of unchecked and unrestrained aggression it is an important story to experience. And one that, despite being dated in some aspects, is just as relevant today in the lessons that still need to be learned and the warnings to be gleaned.
Attack of the Killer Ants, and Other Adventures in Paradise
competitive exclusion /
(n) 1. a situation in which one species competes another into extinction.
2. the inevitable elimination from a habitat of one of two different species with identical needs for resources.
While I didn’t love the book itself, despite enjoying Chuck Wendig’s writing style and Xe Sands’ narration, there were certain elements of the story I found fascinating. One prominent idea in the novel was the concept of competitive exclusion, and regardless of what was happening in the book with genetically modified killer ants, it was a concept that grabbed my attention for its implications beyond the themes of futurism and doomsday/survivalist prepping. Eliminate the characters, the ants, the hi-tech monster story and the shell game of human monsters pulling strings throughout, and you still have this concept.
We live in a world of finite resources. But we have also been poisoned to believe that finite means limited, and that in order for you to have enough, I must not. We have been indoctrinated by survival of the fittest, despite us all having the potential to be fit enough to thrive.
Read the definition again. Rethink the concept. Competitive exclusion is not what our initial assumption assumes it to be. It is “a situation in which—”
It is a situation. It is a situation in which two organisms are made to compete against one another. And much like in Wendig’s novel, it is a situation created and constantly influenced by those in power, those with wrath, those with unlimited resources all at the expense of those with no knowledge, no shelter, no protection beyond what might be scraped together during the panicked stampede of an isolated island’s population.
So while we may not be trying to escape face-eating genetically modified ants, it might be useful to look around at rush for resources we see everyday in the ‘fight for $15’, in teachers union strikes across the country, in food deserts in every community in the wealthiest nation in the world, in lawmakers threatening to take away school lunch funding to schools that fail to hit standardized test standards, in billion dollar companies run by millionaires eliminating jobs and closing factories to maximize profits, and the elected officials that earned tens of thousands of dollars voting against needs of thousands for the benefit of a few. All of this is an engineered situation that depends on anhysterical and uninformed reaction by those with little power so that the few can hoard resources and stockpile assets beyond what could be conceivably utilized.
Now that I think about it, we might have a better shot against the ants.
An article I came across about a secret ballroom built in the 19th century beneath a lake piqued my curiosity and led me to search out more information and photographs about this incredibly intriguing hidden marvel. The history of Whitaker Wright, his property at Lea Park where the underwater ballroom is located, his shady business deals and eventual suicide when his deception was uncovered seems ripe to transform into any number of plotlines and stories.
While gathering information for my own story (one that leans more towards Lovecraft than Agatha Christie), I found the Facebook page for “The Folly Under the Lake”. It hadn’t been released yet and I kind of dismissed it, but as I kept writing and tinkering and going back to search for new information, it kept popping up until finally I bought it.
To be honest, I underestimated “The Folly Under the Lake”. I didn’t expect to enjoy it and maybe I didn’t want to, so at first, I didn’t.
Initially, I was put off by being thrust into the story through two characters who seemed set up to be a secondary, annoying couple you pity but deep down can’t stand. From there, too many characters were introduced too quickly where I got to the point I didn’t care who was talking anymore and had no interest in trying to keep them apart.
But I kept reading and they kept talking. And talking. And there was a lot of dialogue. But then I told myself to stop trying to hate the book, to stop trying to look for what was wrong. I would read a couple chapters and put it down, read a couple more the next night, and during the fourth day, when I was six or seven chapters in, I found myself excited for later when I would get to pick it up and read some more.
While this was not a great book, it nevertheless had me hooked.
Whether it was my interest in the underwater ballroom itself or curiosity over how Walter would be killed, and whether I was right about who did it (I wasn’t), I was excited to keep reading it, pacing myself as I did to tease the story out.
Could “The Folly Under the Lake” have benefited from deeper characterization and more thorough descriptions to build up of this incredible setting? Definitely. The book synopsis says the story is set in the 1930s, but I didn’t feel there was anything in the text itself to establish that. Given that the historical basis for the setting and characters is rooted at the turn of the 20th century, with Whitaker Wright committing suicide in 1904, my knowledge of the background and the claims from the synopsis were always at odds and that left me with a feeling of inconsistency that more attention to setting by the author could have avoided.
But ultimately, it was a fun read and I enjoyed more than I expected I would. The book did exactly as it needed to keep the reader engaged and moving forward through this little murder mystery, offering up valid suspects in each of the characters that kept you excited to read on and solve the crime.