Review: Liberation by Brian Francis Slattery

Liberation by Brian Francis SlatteryLiberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America

Brian Francis Slattery

Tor, 2008

From pg. 51:

The building and all its books are still intact, she knows; the employees of the library madea spontaneous pact to defend it as soon as the police force stopped working, and now they just live in the building.  They hauled beds into the offices and corners of the huge reading rooms, put plaid couches against the marble walls.  An army of cats patrols the halls, has litters on the stairs.  She imagines that some of the librarians are fulfilling a long cherished fantasy.  It’s just them and the books now, the stamped serifs, the margins smudged with fingerprints.  You can still go to the library, to the yards of windows casting long stripes of light acrosss the stone floor, the long tables, the wood paneling, the paintings on the walls.  You can still go and read the books.  Except for the large friearms taht the librarians carry, it’s like nothing happened, as if every noon, businessmen are still eating their lunches with the lions. 

I admit that being a librarian that passage resonated quite a bit for me.  The imagery is even further enhanced by the fact that I’ve visited and used the New York Public Library and I have even had lunch with the lions so to speak (though I think Bryant Park is a more ideal lunching spot).  That is the thing about Liberation that despite its near-future setting and ripped-from-the-headlines economic disaster it manages to combine the familiar with the strange to create an eerie resonance (or perhaps disonance).  It blends past and present together in a strange amalgamation to the point where one is frequently indistinguishable from the other.  Read on for more.

Time is central to the novel, the blend of past and present mirrored in the unbroken narrative Slattery employs.  Point of view shifts with not textual clues, no line breaks mark the change from present action to flashback and it is frequently easy to get lost along the way.  It makes for a difficult read at times, and even more trying for someone like me who has to stop and start duo to time constraits.  The novel is certainly best read when you can read an entire chapter in one shot without being interupted.  Despite the difficulties involved in the narrative it aids in creating a dream like state where old things arrise out of the new far more frequently than new things arrise from the ashes of the old.  Indeed much of the novel hearkens back to the 19th century from the long-winded title and summary chapter headings to the battle to abolish slavery and the fight to re-establish Native American sovereign territory.  This is a book about the past.

The characterization in the novel is fairly light.  The cast of oddball characters from the titular Slick Six to the free-wheeling caravan leading Doctor San Diego are more like play actors than fully established charcaters.  We get to know very little about the majority of characters with the most attentional lavished on the Slick Six’s silent killer/assassin Marco.   While we do learn about his past as a child soldier, he is an all-around tragic killer with skills bordering on the supernatural, we never get to see too far into his head and the detached narrative voice casts the reader as a neutral observer and doesn’t lend itself to emotional attachments.  It is an effect that mirrors how events sweep up characters over the course of the story.  The narrative drive itself serves as a character of its own called the Vibe, the inexorable call of events that carries everyone it touches, reader and character alike, along in its wake.

As detached and impassive as the narrative voice is I still found myself forming an emotional attachment Marco.  He is a scary individual well versed in the art of murder attempting to cling to the only family he has ever known, the Slick Six.  Unfortunatley, Marco is something akin to avatar of death, an agent of change, whose single-minded mission to preserve his family is what is destined to break the cycle of the past that the rest of the world is mired in.  Where he walks death follows him but so does change.  It is an interesting study in contrast: for life to flurish the remnants of the past must first be stripped down.

In the end Liberation was an interesting read what it lacks in action in makes up for in stirring imagery and fascinating introspection on society and our relationship to the past present and future.  Its narrative style is tied intimatley to this theme and will likely serve as a barrier for some reader but those willing to put in the time and effort to read the text will come away enriched as a result.  While it is a post-apocalyptic novel the focus is less on survival, people have already survived, than it on what comes next.  It is light on genre elements, certainly no hard sci-fi here, but it makes stirring use of vaguely supernatural imagery, and definatley preternatural action, to lend the events a certain hallucinatory feel.  Recommended.

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