The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047, full of discussions of economic policy and the efficacy or not of the gold standard, nevertheless contains Jane Austen-like dissections of class distinction and grandly satirical swipes at foodies and oenophiles. It’s also a provocative and very funny page-turner ... Ms. Shriver has good fun with futurisms, including the continuing reign over Russia by Vladimir Putin, 'Mr. President for Life'; a U.S. presidential primary whose challenger is 'leftwing grandee Jon Stewart'; and a tempered use of invented slang ... Ms. Shriver skillfully foregrounds Willing’s perspective, a narratively charged vantage point from which morality takes a back seat to survival ... The future is grim, but Ms. Shriver with characteristically sardonic humor keeps things from getting heavy-handed.
If the novel is initially slow to gather momentum, it’s because the set-up it requires is so complex, and because Shriver’s research is so exhaustive. Thus the reader is fed tranches of economic theory in the early chapters, made scarcely more palatable for being dressed up as dinner-party conversations...But once the premise has been established as all too chillingly plausible, the novel revs up into a multifaceted family saga where marital, sibling and inter-generational relationships fracture in the face of increasingly punitive sanctions and shortages ... Shriver presents this future with her familiar undercurrent of black humour and a sly nod to the reader ... But for all the sharp-edged comedy (a thriving Mexico builds a border wall to keep out desperate illegal Americans), and for all that it ends with a knowing Orwellian wink, The Mandibles is a profoundly frightening portrait of how quickly the agreed rules of society can fall apart without money to grease the wheels.
The Mandibles approaches the imminent collapse of American society from the right side of the political spectrum...This would be refreshing, as dystopias go, if Shriver’s novel wasn’t so burdened with dialogue in which the characters repeatedly explain to each other the reasons for America’s calamitous fall. They’re really lecturing the reader, of course, their main themes being initiative-sapping big government and the frauds perpetuated by the Federal Reserve ... Becoming bluntly partisan, the novel uses fantasy and name-checks to score points against Florence’s fellow liberals in her time and ours. The immigration amnesty of 2020 is followed by a constitutional amendment that allows for a foreign-born president: a pudgy, lisping Mexican, just one of the novel’s several racist characterizations ... At times, Shriver’s novel reads like the 'FoxLiberty-Ultra' version of Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, without the humor, but it more often recalls the libertarian fables of the classic science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein ... Shriver is, nevertheless, an engaging writer. Even with their speechifying and the tediousness of the story, her characters solicit your sympathy, much more than they usually do in genre science fiction. And also, as in good science fiction, you often have to look up from the page to remind yourself that you don’t live on the planet that’s being described.
...[a] searing exemplar of a disquieting new genre — call it dystopian finance fiction ... Shriver isn’t the kind of writer who lets her themes rise gently to the surface. She seizes them with an almost animalistic ferocity and interrogates them for all they’re worth. Her smart, satirical fiction is old-fashioned in that it serves as a vehicle for investigating political and social questions, but it’s also almost uncannily of its moment ... Shriver’s dystopia is imagined as minutely as a pointillist image, with every detail adding another dot to the overall picture. The devolution of civilized society happens slowly at first, then all at once ... But The Mandibles suffers from a common flaw of speculative fiction: Virtually every detail of the narrative serves to communicate some expository element, giving it a didactic tone. The characters sometimes feel less like human beings than figures in a modern morality play ... I don’t remember the last time a novel held me so enduringly in its grip.
The energy of Shriver’s style counteracts the remorselessness of her vision. The world that the Mandible family must negotiate is evoked in seamless detail ... The author and I don’t agree about the seminal causes of the impending dystopia: I think failure to address climate change when it was first understood in 1968 and the rapacious greed of corporations is what will destroy us; Shriver is more wary of the government, at first inept, then intrusive, and always demanding higher taxes. She makes an interesting case, however, and manages to twist the plot over and over so that unexpected events happen all the way to the end ... Every dystopia is a picture of what the author most dreads; Shriver is better than most at fleshing out her vision and bringing it alive.
...[a] hilarious, brilliant new novel ... Shriver's foray into the current dystopian trend in literary fiction may instinctively alienate—We're all feeling apocalyptic enough, thank you!—but read this anyway; particularly if you loved, as we bookish females have, her The Post-Birthday World.
If much of the speculative Dystopian future in Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles seems wildly improbable — from its onset to the armed confiscation of gold to the population’s willingness to have transaction-monitoring chips implanted in their necks — it’s certainly fully realized. The book is thick with future slang and technology, grounded in a future recent history and rife with such ironic natural developments as the Mexicans putting up a wall to keep out fleeing Americans and the Chinese shipping their aged to America because it’s cheaper than taking care of them at home. Because so much has happened, characters have to spend a lot of time describing the events to each other (i.e., us), with a wink from the author.
The book is a fairly straightforward conservative libertarian nightmare. And while I personally don’t agree with its politics, I might still consider The Mandibles to be a well-crafted book, if it didn’t seem to exist almost entirely to congratulate itself on its political views ... there are occasional gestures toward something else. Shriver is excellent at evoking the concrete physical discomfort created as the economy collapses...But those kinds of details are few and far between. Mostly, the characters of this book exist to have extended straw-man arguments about economic theory ... in other words, all the makings of our next Ayn Rand.
The Mandibles delivers on economic rigmarole while also tackling massive, interconnected issues of class, race and family dynamics. This is a gauntlet only a select few can pass through ... Shriver chocks the first 200-or-so pages with financial talking-head sessions that read more like cut-and-paste jobs than realistic dialogue ... [leaves] readers with a colder-than-cement sentiment towards the family ... Even worse is the consistent degrading treatment of the book’s only major black character ... yes, The Mandibles is a solid example of Shriver writing about the issues of our time. But this is a flawed novel, and whether she likes it or not, Shriver isn’t exempt from due criticism. More important than this book’s weaknesses is that the list of great writers who can deliver a quintessential book about our socio-economic future just got smaller.