Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos
Published by: Bloomsbury
Released: January 12
Read: December 12 2016
This is a sad book. Using the tragic occurrence of Jared Stone’s brain tumour, Vlahos puts his family through a series of unmitigated events designed to horrify and appall readers. He pushes our boundaries of decency, and makes us realise these are not unrealistic ideas of a fanciful novelist, but are in fact, part of the everyday in contemporary society.
What does that say about the human condition? While Vlahos keeps us entertained and amused, he is also challenging us about how accepting we are when it comes to morally ambiguous behaviour. We think we are powerless, that people with the money and influence control the way the world works, but characters like Jackie, Jared’s daughter, and Hazel Huck, show us that it’s people with passion and determination who can change the course of events, and make a difference. For good, I mean.
The plot is simple. Jared discovers he has a brain tumour, it’s inoperable, and by the time he realises, it’s already destroyed some of his rational thinking neurons, so in order to provide for his family after he dies, Jared decides to auction his life on eBay to make some money.
The plot isn’t important. It’s the way we are led into the minds of Jared’s family, and the people who want exploit him that is the focus. Each villain is given a chance to explain his or her actions. They all feel completely justified in their decision to take advantage of this man who just wants to take care of his family. It’s despairing stuff.
But there are also people who want to help. So Vlahos goes someway to balance the evil with the good. I love how technology is depicted, as both ways to abuse people’s trust (reality TV programs, and cyber-hacking), as well as ways to support it (Online communities). The Internet itself isn’t inherently bad, it’s how people choose to use it.
I haven’t talked about the point of view of the tumour we are also given. Glio, as we come to know it, is probably the most poignant part of the novel. We glimpse Jared’s memories it devours—all the thoughts and associations that make him human, that make him Jared, and it’s painful. Mostly because Glio is merely following its own genetic code. There’s no intended malice, but it’s so malicious, so tragically unfair, we can’t help assigning blame and condemning it as the corrupting influence.
Anyway, Life in a Fishbowl is a complicated detailed and subversive novel. Its length is due to the many narrative voices, all given free reign to tell stories, remember past events, and build defenses of their (mostly) selfish and greedy actions. Thankfully Jackie is strong for her father, and ultimately, we see her triumph. It’s worth the journey.
Thanks to the publishers via Netgalley who provided access to this early ARC. Released January 12th, 2017.
Recommended to readers who prefer their books edgy and hard-hitting, with unapologetic authors who refuse to pander to stereotypes or follow predictable formats. Multiple narrators who often go off-road with little regard for plot. Unconventional conclusion, with no romance.