“Everything is Broken” – review

By John Shirley
A review by Randy Dethrow

Jim Goad, one of my favorite writers once wrote, “I’m bothered by dumb ideas . . . like the belief that the term “happy ending” isn’t oxymoronic. Or the silly ideological construct called “justice,” a thing which has never been achieved anywhere on the globe at any point in time. Or the primitive faith in nonexistent phantasms such as good and evil. Or the falsehood known as society, which proposes that people won’t actually trample over one another to get off a sinking boat.”

But as much as I admire Jim Goad’s brutal writing style, John Shirley has written a book that proves everything in that quote completely and utterly false. There IS good and evil. And people WILL help one another if they are in a life-threatening situation. And, yes, even though our planet is crawling with bad ideas and slithering corruption, there IS justice in this world. And many people actually die smiling, without fear, having lived a full and satisfying life, and their ending is indeed a happy ending.

“Everything is Broken” is about a town called Freedom, which was once called Ferry Landing but was changed by the batshit crazy Mayor who is a Tea Party Libertarian whose ideas about privatization have pretty much left the town without a fire department or police force. Basically, the guy wants nothing to do with the federal government. To say that he has a screw loose (which becomes overwhelmingly looser as the novel unfolds) is like saying that the sinking of the Titanic was a “boating accident.”

The two main characters, Russ and Dickie Rockwell represent the good and evil in the novel, which is about a small town that is devastated by a tsunami, a town cut off from all Government aid, and is left to the mercy of its inhabitants. Russ, along with some other characters named Brand, Dale, Jill, Pendra, and Russ’ dad are the heroes of the book, helping the townspeople in any way they can – in one instance forcing the lone doctor in town to help when he is caught trying to get the hell out of Freedom.

Dickie Rockwell is a character straight out of an Andrew Vachss novel: a predator created by years of systematic abuse. In one scene, also straight out of a Vachss novel, Dickie gets revenge on one of the people who turned him into the monster he is, and you almost feel sympathy for him, except that he is a killer. He is also a meth dealer, and if you read enough John Shirley novels or short stories you get the understanding that Shirley has a serious hard-on for meth dealers. I myself have lost more friends to alcohol, heroin and crack cocaine than meth, but Shirley has his reasons. Dickie and the mayor Lon Ferrara team up to attempt to create some kind of libertarian utopia out of the mess left behind by the disaster, but Lon’s ideas and Dickie’s ideas are very, very different.

At this point I am going to stop with the synopsis because I don’t want to be that “spoiler” guy. It’s enough to say that this is a novel of good versus evil, and is realistic to a fault. I’ve read five of Shirley’s books and four of them are very much horror/fantasy/sci-fi books. This one, without a doubt, could actually take place and having survived Hurricane Katrina I know for a fact that during disasters such as Katrina the kinds of things that are depicted in “Everything is Broken” do in fact take place. An interesting parallel is that during Hurricane Katrina, we were suffering under the administration of the most corrupt and ineffective President of all time, and the guy who ran FEMA was completely clueless. And when the government actually DID send troops in to help, some of them, instead of helping anyone, just decided that it would be easier to shoot them instead.

What John Shirley has written is prophetic, shocking, sometimes sad, but overall is a novel about hope and the enduring human spirit. Yes, it is about a clash between good versus evil and yes, bad things happen to good people. It wouldn’t be a realistic book if they didn’t. But in the end, the tsunami proves Jim Goad wrong. Not all people will trample over one another to get off of a sinking ship. Some people will rise up and selflessly help others onto the lifeboats, while some others will try to steal everything not nailed down on the sinking ship before they indeed push people over the side to save themselves. And this is the best analogy I can give to the story told in “Everything is Broken.”

In short, I loved this book, and am very glad I bought it and that John Shirley got some of my money because it was worth every fucking penny. Do yourself a favor, go to Amazon.com RIGHT NOW and order “Everything is Broken.” Because ultimately, what John Shirley does with this novel is explain how decent people with selfless hearts can make sure that everything that is broken can still sometimes be fixed.


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