The Deceptive Smiles of Bredmeyer Deed
By Susan Scutti.
Illustrated by Sarah Valeri
Everyone on the ST that morning appeared broken in some essential way. As we passed through the unused parts of our district, I looked beyond them and stared through the half-obscured window at the remnants of the former city. Although the Multi domes had transformed buildings and imposed themselves upon the existing infrastructure, sagging ruins of time still remained.
Thus begins Susan Scutti’s new novel, a departure, in many ways, from her former work. The story is in the tradition of Brave New World or 1984—a world far in the future. A date of 3017 or 3082 is provided (a political discrepancy which might be propaganda); this puts it a thousand years in the future. I for one do not believe humans will be around in a thousand years, but that’s just me.
The people of this future society seem to be divided into two groups: those who work and live for the “Multis” (Multi-National Corporations?), and the RU or Resident Unemployed. The latter we are to assume are permanently and politically unemployed and must live on their wits, via their own economic systems, out in the savagery of the weather. The Multi employees live in various domes where everything is climate controlled, where their food is designed to control their emotions, and where reproduction takes place via a kind of genetic engineering. These people, if they leave their domes, will suffer from environmental exposure or Enviro-sickness. This division of society into two distinct groups reminds one of the contrast between the Molochs and the Eloi of Well’s The Time Machine, or the Alphas, Betas and Gammas vs. The Savage Reservation in Huxley’s Brave New World.
People who live within the Multi domes seem to have a fairly comfortable even pleasant life. Citizens (many of whom belong to a “customized class of workers”) have the services of Sani-bots and Nanny-bots. Surveillance pigeons fly around and perch on window sills. Everything is taken care of; their education is determined, as is their life’s work. And, oddly, many seem to be quite satisfied with their working lives. There are a few, however, who develop a suspicion that all is not as it seems to be. For instance, Dawn begins to suspect that all communications are altered before they each the recipient’s screens, and this presents a certain social illusion of satisfaction. There are, as well, curious “time-lapses” that occur periodically, in which, apparently, everyone sort of goes to sleep for a week or two. There are two reasons for this enforced sleep: 1) the Multis need to save resources, and 2) the various computerized systems that run everything within the Multis need to reboot. Most people, however, are unaware of these time lapses as their diet is changed during that time to put them into a coma.
The idea of mental and physical control through the medium of food is metaphorical as well as essential to the plot. The main character of the novel, Dawn Theocratis, has discovered that if you do not eat the modified food products, or eat foods at other than the prescribed times, you can begin to experience a different reality.
So, during my first brief food experiment I saw just this—how my interest level flowed like a sine wave. And then the following day the cycle began again: anxiety before eating, calm afterward. Are my feelings controlled by the food I ate? The pattern seemed so obvious once I began to fast. . . . I was stuck in a cycle of curiosity, concern, and apathy and that cycle was directly related to eating. Was Bredmeyer feeling the same? Within the flat color of his eyes, I believe I detected the same fluctuation of interest, a co-sine of angst.
Dawn’s partner in suspicion, Bredmeyer Deed, is the person who has discovered the time-lapses and clued her in. This discovery coupled with the food-mood manipulation makes Dawn curious about the uncontrolled world beyond the Dome. Eventually she decides to explore that world. When she suspects a time-lapse is coming, she refuses to eat so that she does not succumb to the requisite social “sleep.” She then leaves the Dome to live in the RU world, where she tracks down a woman she had previously briefly met, a woman named Exile. Dawn becomes engaged in Exile’s somewhat troubled domestic life while at the same time learning about self-sufficiency and the ways of life outside the Multi domes. She is later joined there by her partner in intrigue, and her eventual lover, Bredmeyer Deed.
Several dramatic events take place out there in the RU world, which cause Dawn to reconsider the meaning of her life, i.e. whether she should remain in the world of the RUs or return to the Multi. She chooses the later, yet with a new mission; that being to find a way to humanize the Multi and, at the same time, to raise the level and consciousness of the RUs. She becomes a social healer of sorts and, more to the point, her mission is not squashed by the Multi State, as one might suspect.
Indeed, several sociological/philosophical issues come up in this book, which are worth reviewing. In the world of the RU things seem to have reverted to a basically benign, if struggling, society in which people get along—in other words, it is not Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, out there beyond the Domes. One might legitimately wonder at this state of passivity. I for one would have liked to know more of the history and background of revolt, if there is/was any. Of course, this is not Scutti’s subject in this novel, but some historical exposition would have added depth to the RU characters. We also find that the RUs are extremely dependant upon the Multis for materials and even food, as in the case of Exile. Thus, for all their self-sufficiency, they seem to be reduced to a position of childlike dependence. Sound familiar? I would have liked to see some reflection on this dilemma, especially among the RU philosophes, such as they are.
Both Dawn and Bredmeyer seem to think the RU world is kind of boring because people don’t dissemble—they are exactly as they seem. In addition both of them seem to miss their jobs back in the Multi, which they begin to remember as being rather satisfying. Dawn’s desire to return to the Multi, further brings this question to the focus. Is Scutti advocating for the beneficence and superiority of the Multi and therefore a possibility of progressive Corporate Citizenship? Or is she merely a realist? There is a strain of thought throughout the book that seems to suggest that the Multi world is not all that bad, and that some sort of better synthesis of worlds is possible.
Another question that gnaws at the reader is “What has happened here?” We get vague mentions of catastrophic wars (a Third Multi-War), and environmental disasters, but the reader has to fill in the past with their own imagination. I understand that Scutti might be legitimately avoiding this kind of tired explanation of the fall of human society, and that’s a perfectly legitimate strategy. Cormak McCarthy’s The Road, also references only vaguely the past disaster that leaves the world in its dystopian state. We know these scenarios too well and don’t need to go over them again.
At one point, after Dawn admits to not really remembering anything ever happening for sure, Exile tells her:
I’m telling you exactly what happened, Dawn. Long ago a series of small bombs killed a bunch of people and ruined the environment and people became allergic to the genetically modified food so the Multi built this dome and other domes all around the world and still the bombs went off at times and so then the Multi started to dope people and put them to sleep sometimes to save food but also so the people could be happy enough to continue so they wouldn’t be so depressed thinking about how lousy everything had become. That’s what happened.
Still we have little to go on, other than that the regrettable state of society is due to ancient history, accident, the way things are, etc. What we have is a society in resignation, much the way our current young are resigned to the “ancient” realities of the Holocaust, the Atomic Bomb, Vietnam and even modern Terrorism—these are merely part of the movie of everyday life. Might as well shop. Also, I don’t really understand the relationship between the one world and the other (RU and Multi). For all their opposition there seems to be an acceptance and even a certain amount of easy communication between them. Any policing of transgressed borders seems lax. Scutti explains this porosity as “a world where perfect enforcement of borders, a strict dissemination of information based on a worker’s class, and basically any absolute division does not and cannot hold.”
Perhaps these qualms of mine are despite the point. The Deceptive Smiles of Bredmeyer Deed is a tale of one woman’s self-discovery (of romance, family, social responsibility) even in a society that seems resigned to its fate. Dawn is an agent, not of revolution, but of change within the system, and this is something we might legitimately question. If the system is corrupt can any such change be valid? Again, I quote the author, who intends to show: “that change withina system is possible because systems are naturally flawed, systems call for change, yet at the same time people like or require systems too much to ever abolish them utterly.”
The ongoing tensions developed in the book are common to our contemporary electro-collective era: individualism and collectivism, privacy and community, independence and interdependence. We could also add socialism and capitalism. In every opposition there is a question as to which pole is in service of the other. and when is compromise an admission of failure or a sign of success. Susan Scutti’s new novel is both a sci-fi “romance” and a bildingsroman that paints an evocative picture of a future society while provoking discussion of human nature, society and historical time.
Susan Scutti is the author of a collection of short stories, “The Renaissance Began with a Muted Shade of Green,” (Linear Arts Press, 1999) and two novels: “Second Generation,” and “A Kind of Sleep.” She has also published two collections of poetry: “We Are Related” (Three Rooms Press), and “The Commute.” (Paper Kite Press).
She lives in New York City.
Note: I have not mentioned the color illustrations by Sarah Valeri in this review, but the author informs that: “Sarah Valeri did the artwork for the book and heavily influenced it. Informally, we collaborated over the course of a few years. Our process went something like this: she’d read what I wrote and then go paint… I’d stare at her paintings and write some more.”