2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America

As predictors go, Albert Brooks is a lot more convincing than that guy who told us the world was going to end last week. Basically, Brooks predicts in 2030, a dystopian novel that came out a week or so ago, that if the boomers take a really long time to die and gobble up all the money in the United States while they do it, then the country’s going to go to hell. Plus, if there’s a big earthquake in L.A. — like a 9.1 earthquake — L.A.’s going to go to hell first. Which makes sense, because Brooks lives in L.A., where he writes, directs and acts in pretty good movies, and is known to be cranky about the place.

It’s funny how a book that’s so interesting — and this one is — and occasionally witty — as this one is — can also be a bad book. I did enjoy 2030, but I spent at least half the time reading it thinking, “what’s wrong here?”  and “Why is everything so FLAT?” So, after I found out what was going to happen to the United States, I figured out what was wrong with 2030.

Basically, this isn’t a novel — it’s a summary of a novel.  By that I mean you don’t see events play out;  Brooks just tells you that they occur, which allows a lot of huge things to happen in very few pages.

Dialogue’s another problem. In books, as opposed to summaries, when people talk to each other, you learn something about them. Usually, that’s because you see what they’re keeping back or what they’re angry about or how they disagree with each other. In 2030, people talk to each other to — you guessed it — help Brooks summarize what’s happening, in case you missed it, or because he needs to move things along.

The book is full of characters — the first half Jewish president of the United States, who’s not even really Jewish because his mother’s not, and the first woman Secretary of the Treasury. There are plenty of cranky old people. Brilliant inventors. Financiers. Chinese whiz kids who know how to run a health care system and build a city. Powerful senators and their sexy daughters. The thing is, though, that not a single one of these characters has a secret that’s kept from you until it’s worthwhile to reveal it and not a single character is any different at the end of the book than they are at the beginning. The one character who does change, changes as a result of doing a lot of drugs which, in my book anyway, just doesn’t count.

In the end, Brooks isn’t really interested in characters, he’s interested in talking about what’s going wrong in America and how it’s going to end up if we don’t do something about it. As a result, the book’s really one long plea to fix entitlement programs before they bankrupt the country and leave kids with nothing to hope for.  It’s a plea made through unconvincing actors dressed as helpless presidents, clever Chinese, scared angry old people and scared angry young people and clueless rich people and middle-aged hopeless poor people. The thing is, most American adults with a pulse already know that we’ve got to do something about social security and medicare and an aging, long-living population that votes in large numbers and, at the end of 2030, we don’t really know anything different. But at least we were entertained while we were told what we already know, which is a lot better than reading an article in the New York Times Magazine, which probably wouldn’t have been even occasionally funny, as 2030 is.

So here’s my assessment: Because I read novels to be surprised, to see something I didn’t see before, this book isn’t much of a novel. To the extent that I read novels to be entertained, this book accomplished that about half the time. If you’re in the  market for a monologue by a cranky, funny, thoughtful, worried guy, this one’s for you.

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8 thoughts on “2030: The Real Story of What Happens to America

  1. I’m not, and thanks for warning me. I like his movies, but if I’m going to donate time to a novel I want a cracking good story, not social commentary kinda-sorta framed in a story.

    • Mikey — Well, I did finish it, and I didn’t HATE it, but that might not be enough for those who aren’t procrastinating by reading anything they can get their hands on, as I have been doing so I don’t have to revise my novel and do really hard things to make the revisions work. Ack.

  2. On this one I had to really disagree. I thought the dialogue was some of the most natural and free flowing I have seen for a long time in a novel. And I didn’t know what was going to happen and I cared about these people. So on this one, I think you’re way way too harsh.
    I would hate to see someone not enjoy it because of you.

  3. Hello Paul and welcome — I’m always happy to hear dissenting views and am glad you liked the book. There’s a lot about it that I too enjoyed. Brooks is funny and the story is interesting. I don’t think I’m being too harsh about the book, really — I’m simply stating my point of view, which is informed by my own particular likes and dislikes. I also think people who love books are quite capable of forming their own opinions, based on the variety of reactions to this book that are out there and their knowledge of where I come from when it comes to books. As for the dialogue, I’ve been thinking a lot about that issue, and have written something about it today. This might better explain what I look for in dialogue. Not everyone does, of course, but this is the kind of thing that matters to me.
    http://bloglily.com/2011/05/30/talking-at-cross-purposes/

    Hope to see you around on the blog, and once again, thanks so much for visiting.

  4. That’s a funny portrait of your son. The expression reminds me of what Yoda does when he isn’t entirely pleased with something. Cute.

  5. This novel is on my summer reading list, but mostly because I teach a Utopia/Dystopia course and am always on the lookout for more contemporary work. My experience with this sub-genre is that they are all a little too idea-bound, and the best ones seem to find a way to drop us in the world and go on. I especially like the second chapter of Huxley’s Brave New World because it contains nearly all the exposition of the whole novel in overlapping, crazily colliding conversations. Then, he’s off.

  6. As you’ve pointed out, I have trouble distinguishing one utopian/dystopian dude from another. I’ve never read Brave New World. I’d like to look at that second chapter. I recently read Ishiguro’s … now what’s that book called? Good grief. Oh. Never Let Me Go. Wonderful book, and ideas all nicely tucked away.

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