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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Third - Abel Keogh

Know what I liked about The Third?  There are no right answers.  In Abel Keogh's novel of the near future, the world has responded to the threat of global warming by instituting strict population limits and rationing resources.  I was very hesitant to read the novel because the global warming issue has become so politicized in recent years that I fear any novel built around the concept will demagogue for one side or the other.  I shouldn't have worried.

The story centers on Ransom Lawe - a recycler whose job entails leaving the confines of the walled city and stripping abandoned buildings for resources.  Lawe, already questioning the rightness of a society that demeans a woman's right to have children, finds himself in dire circumstances when his wife, Teya, becomes pregnant with their third child.  Two children are frowned upon, but a third is illegal.

Throughout the novel Keogh asks all the right questions.  Is global warming the threat the government claims it is?  If it is, does that threat justify denying humanity's natural rights?  The Third shows both points of view through two distinct characters - Mona, Teya's sister and Director of Population at the Census Bureau and Esperanza, a prominent leader in the resistance.  Mona believes so strongly in the necessity to protect the earth and humanity's survival as a species that she will not help her own sister give birth.  In contrast, Esperanza espouses an almost Ayn Randian vision of self determination as she tries to free the Lawe family.

After finishing I can honestly say I'm not sure what Keogh believes.  For me though, that is the point.  He seems to say there is no perfect solution.  Is the earth getting warmer?  Absolutely, the data is irrefutable.  That said there's not yet a consensus on what's causing it.  And even if there were, what cost is society willing to pay to turn back the thermometer?  Beyond the issue of global warming, Keogh also delves into the idea of social change.  Using Mona and Esperanza again he sets up an almost Malcolm X/Martin Luther King Jr. paradigm.  Can change be best accomplished within the system or can things only truly change through revolution?  It's a provocative discussion and only hinted at, eschewing the frank discussions that get someone pigeonholed as a political mouthpiece.

The one downside for me was in how Teya was written.  Keogh portrays her as incapable of dealing with the situation.  She's often reduced to a simpering layabout waiting for her husband or sister to solve her problems.  Even when she makes a decision she bungles it only complicating the already herculean task she's put before her husband.  It seemed to me that Keogh played into many of the emotional stereotypes surrounding women (and in case my wife is reading this - they're all crap!).  Perhaps he makes up for this in Esperanza and Mona who are both far stronger female characters.  I still feel like the novel could have had the same impact without her being characterized this way.

Unlike many books that deals with large social issues, The Third is current.  While in the tradition of 1984 and Brave New World, Keogh discusses themes that are far more relevant to today's young people making it a great option for high school reading lists.  I definitely recommend The Third and I’ll be interested to see what Abel Keogh writes in the future.

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