Thursday, September 01, 2016

Vivian Apple at the end of the World

The world seems to be coming to an end. Natural and man-made disasters are also spreading in epic proportions. What is a girl supposed to do? Go on a cross country road trip with her best friend and a boy she just met, of course. In doing this, she finds out more about herself and her family and finally meets her aunt and uncle and long-lost sister. Meanwhile, hoodlums reign in the world, doing things in the name of "the church of America". This church was started by Pastor Frick, who had predicted the apocalypse and a rapture event. The disasters bring people to the church, while the disappearance of many people on the rapture date drives the country into a frenzy. Alas, while Frick was genuine and his church "good", he was eventually manipulated by a big business to sell things. Eventually, the church cooperation came to dominate media, consumer goods and most of society. The mobs used the teachings of Frick to justify "elimination" of sinners. The rapture event was even an orchestrated killing at the hands of the business. Frick still believes that he is doing good, but internally, he is feeling the struggle.
I wish the book would have spent more time developing Frick. He was mentioned often, but it was mostly in the context of his teachings. He came across as a cross between a mega-church pastor and Donald Trump. He combined patriotism with fire and brimstone as a way of building up his empire. It is not until the end when we realize that he is the real deal. The empire building is something that has been done around him. The business even goes to the extent of showing him "visions" in the form of videos to manipulate him. When did this manipulation start? How did the company manipulate him?
The book suffers most from stereotypes. Most of the "believers" are portrayed as red-neck bumpkins eager to violently attack the non-conformers. Pittsburgh and the mid-west were overtaken by these vigilantes. Meanwhile, "enlightened" San Francisco has totally rejected Frick's church. This stereotyping is unfortunate, because the believers that we get to know in depth (such as Vivian's parents and friend they meet on the road) are complex characters, who are generally non-judgmental and proceed willingly (albeit with some naivety.) The rapid rise of the Church of America and descent into lawlessness also presses credulity. Would our secular society suddenly adopt a new religion that fast? The deeply religious already have their churches and competition. If a Methodist cannot stomach a Baptist, why would he adopt something totally new. This feels more like a San Franciscan's nightmare than a possible reality.

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