The Good and the Ghastly ~ James Boice

We get the first inkling about the time period in the “Prologue”, when an anonymous narrator tells us it’s “July 9th, the last day of summer”, and that people are going off to work much as they always did but carrying cups of beepollen instead of “something called coffee’. This would have been

One thousand years ago, before the world ended for the first time [in the Visa Nuclear War]

The novel proper is told in the first-person by the anti-hero Junior Alvarez. He’s fifteen and the year is sometime in the 3340’s. “Civilization” has crawled back in a semblance of what it had been before – including what passes for “history”. Junior seems to have been modeled on a latter day Whitey Bulger, which should make it topical these days. Through much os his rise he has a federal agent (Dickey Salazar) as his handler, both of whom play off each other. And when Junior goes on the lam finally, he is accompanied by his life long companion, Maria. The seminal event is a gangland fight in which Junior maims a boy (Jaime) from another gang, in a particularly vicious manner. This sets of the novel-long quest of Jaime’s mother, Josefina Hernandez, to track down the person who turned her son into a vegetable. Josefina is the titular  “good” while Junior is “the ghastly”.

We don’t learn many details of Josefina, except that she was a landlady trying to keep her head above water and attempting to raise a good son. Jaime’s beating turns her into a woman with a sole mission in life. On the other hand we learn much about Junior. His hero is Alexander the Great (here, Alejandro El Grande) and he seeks to rule the world in the way Alexander did, such is the grandiosity of his ambition. In later life he will plan to film a trilogy: First Alexander El Grande, then Bob Dylan, then Junior Alvarez.  These were Juniors “Holy Trinity”, the revered “three vessels of the will.”  He works his way up the ladder of the underworld, for this is where he sees his best chance to rise to the top. He falls under the wing of the head of the Italian mafia, Uncle Antonio. His first lesson,

You have a lot to learn about the nature of the universe. Here’s a introductory lesson: Making up the universe are four elements. There is matter, there is light, there is energy, and there is money. And that’s all. Nothing else.

As Junior is about to perform his first execution near where a university founded by Thomas Jefferson once stood, Uncle Antonio dispense more of his wisdom.

Know who Thomas Jefferson was?

I don’t answer. My finger on the trigger.

He discovered electricity. Invented the lightbulb too. And movies. Want my advice? Study history. It’s important.

Junior has looked at soldiers returning home from wars for instance and notes what he feels are the hypocrisies inherent in how they are treated.

The honor and duty is a one-way smucking street. And the worst part is it’s their own smucking fault for buying into that do-your-part, be-a-patriot, weepy-creepy propaganda bullshit, So I have no sympathy. If you have to trust things like governments because you don’t trust yourself then you deserve whatever happens to you. That’s my philosophy.

Smuck and smucking are the future substitutes for fuck and fucking and used in the same way. There are many such words and ideas and historical ‘facts’ that are skewed in this same way. Much of it is funny, but it gets old and repetitive after awhile – especially the conceit that the world is now run by Visa. A  word count of Visa would  yield several hundred references, I’d guess. (125 actually from a google count)

Junior quotes lines from Stephen Kimg’s plays Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Death of a Salesman, and Pulp Fiction. He quotes philosophers such as Oprah and Nietzsche. He drives on the Angelina Jolie Beltway. Geraldo Rivera was a “great civil rights leader.” Bob Dylan wrote the songs “Happy Birthday”, “Imagine”, “Auld Lang Syne”, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”, “Beat It”, and “Amazing Grace” among others.  The traditional Irish dish is “pad thai and sushimi”. In the town of Walmart, Ohio there is an ancient ruin of an enormous stone cat (the Visa Garfield National Historic Site). In the shadow  of Garfield it is said that a ritual of human sacrifice used to take place. Gifts were piled in massive amounts and marked down such that people assembled to rush for the gifts. Mayhem ensued. The sacrifice was hauled off and another sacrifice was chosen, The ritual? Christmas. This is said to be the origin of the “present-day Visa Gift Giving Holiday”. Visa Orlando is an island where the ruins of “Disney’s World…now a Visa National Park” are located, It is said that the Disney’s World was “originally built by a heartbroken Founding Father Walt Disney as an unworldly tomb for his beloved pet mouse Mickey”. You get the picture. Boice, through Junior, sets up the way in which this happened.

The few survivors after the Visa Nuclear War, would try to keep civilization and it’s culture alive by sitting around campfires and

keeping our spirits up  by singing pop songs and telling one another plotlines from movies and television shows. These became our folktales, our literature. We told our children whatever we could remember from history class or Sunday school or cable television documentaries or the Internet or books about the history of man. It was mostly inaccurate…thus we began the rebuilding of civilization.

We wanted to recreate what we had lost, what we had known, even if it had almost destroyed us. So history began to repeat itself. A second cycle began that was almost identical to what had led to the nuclear war.

Same as it ever was. As Junior tells us, “the end of the world was a fantastic financial opportunity” and he was not about to miss out.  In Boice’snovel, history is repeating itself. This makes it an ultimately pessimistic vision, but one with which I cannot disagree. That said, I can’t really recommend this book. The joke pales after awhile, and the Visa world becomes mind numbing. A bit more clarity in his vision to bring the basic premises into focus would have helped salvage this novel.

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