Summary: June 12, 2030 started out like any other day in memory—and by then, memories were long. Since cancer had been cured fifteen years before, America’s population was aging rapidly. That sounds like good news, but consider this: millions of baby boomers, with a big natural predator picked off, were sucking dry benefits and resources that were never meant to hold them into their eighties and beyond. Young people around the country simmered with resentment toward “the olds” and anger at the treadmill they could never get off of just to maintain their parents’ entitlement programs.
But on that June 12th, everything changed: a massive earthquake devastated Los Angeles, and the government, always teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, was unable to respond.
The fallout from the earthquake sets in motion a sweeping novel of ideas that pits national hope for the future against assurances from the past and is peopled by a memorable cast of refugees and billionaires, presidents and revolutionaries, all struggling to find their way. In 2030, the author’s all-too-believable imagining of where today’s challenges could lead us tomorrow makes gripping and thought-provoking reading.
2030, by Albert Brooks 7.75
I’ve long been a fan of Albert Brooks. Ever since seeing ‘Real Life‘ and ‘The Muse’, I’ve been drawn to his oeuvre, curious to know what subtly sardonic new observations on the human condition he might serve up.
While I don’t enjoy everything he’s done, I remain curious, and have picked up each of the movies he’s written, directed and/or starred in. I even picked up a copy of his rare ‘Comedy Minus One’ comedy album.
So, naturally, when I discovered that he’d written a book, I just had to get it.
From the library.
(Sorry, A.B., I know this doesn’t boost you to the top of the New York Times book list… but I had to see what I thought of it before shoehorning it on my shelves).
Unsurprisingly, I liked it.
I dove into the novel knowing nothing about it, although the tagline “The real story of what happens to America”, in conjunction with its title, suggested that Brooks was about to predict the United States’ future.
And that’s exactly what ‘2030’ is: Brooks looks at the current direction that his country is in politically, economically, and socially, and takes it to its natural destination nearly twenty years later (the novel was published in 2011).
All the while peppering it with his brand of humour.
The world that Brooks has created is free of cancer – the boomers have a life expectancy of 120 years, maybe more, and the pensions being paid out to them is gutting the debt-laden country to the point of incapacitation.
Meanwhile, the younger generations are growing more and more discontent because they have no opportunities and no support. And then a series of massive earthquakes level Los Angeles, creating a national crisis.
‘2030’ is not a good year.
In Brooks’ futuristic dystopia we follow a handful of different characters:
- President Bernstein, an average-looking but incredibly capable man who humbly holds the title of Commander in Chief of one of the greatest powers in the free world – a power beleaguered by massive debt and an aging population whose life expectancy has nearly doubled in two decades. His hands tied behind his back, he is then struck with having to cope with a massive disaster the likes of which his country has never seen before. Without any money to spare, what can he do?
- Brad Miller, an 80-year-old widow who has very little contact with his children. Although he has a couple of close friends, he winds up without any support when he is forced to leave his condo and all his belongings behind after the great L.A. earthquake of 2030. Frustrated with having lost everything, he just wants his government to give him the compensation money he believes he’s due. But there is no money, so he eventually has to depend on his son for help, burdening him financially.
- Kathy Bernard, a young adult whose father got shot during a break-in. Given the state of health care in the United States, she is held responsible for 350 thousand dollars in medical bills – for which neither her father nor she have any money. Likely burdened for the rest of her life, she falls under the spell of Max, a charismatic young leader who is building a resistance movement to fight the economic abuses of the “olds”, the country’s seniors. He will not only change her life, he will leave a mark on their country.
- Sam Mueller, the scientist who invented a cure for cancer and consequently became a world-wide celebrity. He is now wealthy beyond reason and, although he tries to remain grounded, he struggles with his desire for success and empathy for the common man. Unfortunately, his family has become a bit entitled and his son eventually draws the attentions of rebel leader Max, who gets into his head that the only way to change the course of the country is to convince Mueller of the error of his ways.
And there are also a large number of side characters, including Susanna Colbert, the first woman Secretary of the Treasury, Walter Masters, a practitioner of euthanasia, Shen Li, a Health Care wonderkid from China, amongst many others.
What’s interesting is that Brooks not only uses the novel to comment on the current state of things and to warn us of its probable long-term consequences, but he does it with a clear vision and without preaching to his audience.
He essentially sets up a clash of ideals (i.e. the basic principles on which the good ol’ US of A are built) versus the realities of unfettered capitalism, which inevitably leads to greed, which leads to debt, which leads to massive poverty.
Brooks has always been articulate, thought-provoking and very funny. He continues with ‘2030’, perhaps his most ambitious and fully-realized work; having always excelled at connecting individual threads, here he interconnects many.
It’s the work of a mature comedian with a lot on his mind; it’s Albert Brooks on an epic scale.
And I, for one, really enjoyed that.
Granted, the book is peppered with a few improbable elements towards the end and rushes through to its inevitable conclusion as though it were a mere afterthought. But that increasing pace is likely intentional, to build momentum, excitement.
It just felt a bit sketchy to me after all the time that Brooks devoted to setting up his main characters, their various subplots and putting it all together in one tightly wound piece. But I guess that was the most important for me, anyway.
Frankly, if there’s just one thing that I’d have to criticize about the book it’s that many of the characters seem to be extensions of Albert Brooks’ on-screen persona. I could totally hear him speak the lines for the President, Brad and Sam.
Now, I guess that’s not a huge criticism, but I suppose that some writers would have been able to give each of these people their own unique voices. Brooks doesn’t appear to. Then again, maybe he’s hoping to play them all on screen someday.
Because, ultimately, that’s likely what Brooks would have wanted. And I have no doubt that he knew it would be too expensive to make. Which it certainly would be – after all, we’re talking about a large-scale disaster and an ensemble cast, here.
Honestly, though, it’s probably for the better, because much of the humour in ‘2030’ comes from the characters’ internal monologues and Brooks’ commentary. This could not possibly translate to the screen, so the end result would be grim.
As a novel, however, ‘2030’ is a winner. It brings a handful of likable characters together in the middle of a devastating scenario that seems more and more probable by the year and makes us care about them, and their concerns.
Maybe, as we inch closer to 2030, we’ll see how visionary Brooks was. Honestly, I have mixed feelings about his vision. Has his ideals painted a portrait of hope for the future? Or is there an underlying cynicism that suggests this hope is all for show?
We may find out soon enough.