Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Good Humor Man

Fox, Andrew. 2009. The Good Humor Man. Tachyon Publications. 280 pages.

First paragraph: I remember cheese. I remember pizza; real pizza. Deep-dish, Chicago-style, four-cheese pizza, fresh from the oven, the cheese steaming and bubbling on top like cooling lava.

The Good Humor Man is the sometimes amusing, sometimes disturbing 'tribute' to Fahrenheit 451. In fact, this one's full title is "The Good Humor Man, Or, Calorie 3501."

The year is 2041. Our narrator, Dr. Louis Shmalzberg, is a Good Humor man. His job is to seek out and destroy junk food. Well, all food deemed 'unhealthy' by the powers that be. All people caught with contraband are stripped of their health insurance cards. And if you've got a medical condition that requires prescriptions and medical care, well, too bad for you. You shouldn't have been tempted by a bar of chocolate, a cup cake, or a slice of cheese. If people don't willingly give up the forbidden food items when they're caught, then most Good Humor men won't hesitate to shoot you dead. You simply shouldn't have resisted. But Louis is different. In a way. Yes, he's a Good Humor man. But he's got a soul. Sometimes, when no one is looking, he takes a bit of the forbidden food. Not for himself, mind you, but for his father. Did I mention our narrator is in his sixties? Well, he is. And his father is in a nursing home. And his father has a weakness for sweets. And his father just can't understand why the government went nuts and started taking away all the good food and replacing it with genetically engineered healthy foods, diet foods, foods meant to speed up your metabolism. What Dr. Louis Shmalzberg discovers when he visits his father is disturbing and shocking. Something with widespread repercussions.

How many people think there may just be an evil corporation involved?

This book is more than just a little weird. The initial premise--what I just wrote about above--is interesting, intriguing even. But that's just the bare basics. This one goes places you may not be comfortable going. It's a strange, strange book. The doctor and his father were both plastic surgeons. In fact, his father is the first doctor in the United States to perform liposuction. Do you want to guess his first patient? The King himself. Elvis Presley. His father's most prized possessions are jars of Elvis' fat. That and a few personal items from Elvis that he got as gifts after the procedure.

The world is in danger--humanity's survival is being threatened--can decades old belly fat from the late, great King save the world in its darkest hour?

How do I feel about this one? Honestly, I'm not sure. It goes so many places all at once. I think it becomes more complicated than it needs to be. I think it tries to do too much in some ways. But the two basic premises are ones that I enjoyed. One, that government could outlaw unhealthy food and make eating cheese or chocolate or cake or potato chips or whatever a crime. Two, that science could (whether purposefully or accidentally) make a goof-up so bad that life as we know it is threatened. Scientists playing god is not a new theme in fiction. And this genetic engineering twist where the scientists create something that they can't control or are having a hard time controlling...well, it's an interesting little plot device. But there are other plot threads that are even more disturbing (if you can believe it).

I think if you try to pick this one apart and look for messages about society--about food, about body image, about science, about religion, about government, about culture, about race and ethnicity, about life and love itself--then it's going to start falling apart. I don't think this should be read as an allegory. I don't think it should be taken all that seriously. If you're looking for a quirky little book then this one might work for you.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews


La Coccinelle said...

This does sound a little weird... but plausible. The spread of genetically modified food is already underway; this story just takes it a step further.

Is this a humorous book? The full title and the bit about Elvis kind of suggest that (but it's hard to tell).

Suko said...

When I first started reading your review I thought this book had something to say about a dystopian society of the future. But maybe not. Although it does seem to make the point that the individual must choose what he or she eats--not the government.

Debi said...

You have left me utterly intrigued, Becky! I'm definitely hoping our library has this one...I like weird.

cleemckenzie said...

I may have to read this one, Becky. You've piqued my interest.