Provoke Not The Children by Michael W. Anderson

Provoke not

Publisher: Michael W. Anderson

Publishing date : January 19th 2014

In a few years’ time, in the U.S.A., maximization of personal potential is everyone’s duty and the main obstacle to reaching one’s full level is…child rearing. Parents are required by law to hire a parent-by-proxy, a professional who, supposedly, will be better at such a specialized and delicate endeavour than amateurs who just happen to share genetic material with the child, coincidentally freeing the parents and allowing them the option to maximize (which seem to be short-hand for ‘get as rich as possible’).

Enters Chase Stern, Proxy Review Officer, half security agent, half social worker. Not keen on maximization he’s seen as a misfit by just about everybody who is somebody, first and foremost his ex-wife. Even his work-partner sees him as somebody who is too involved in the job.

Chase knows the system is broken, sees it every day in the Deep Suburbs, where the poor live and he cannot let things lie, for the sake of the children. His reports are at the root of a lobbying effort that brings about the demise of the proxy industry.

Another writer could have stopped there, with an easy ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but that’s only the beginning of Provoke Not The Children. How does one go about reintegrating children who have been by all counts abandoned in the care of paid strangers and often abused, when not left to fend for themselves, into the same society that rejected them?

As Chase discovers, there is no easy answer, and even the best intentions can have horrifying consequences. We hear little of the smaller children (runts,as the teens call them), but the society that comes out from the enclave devoted to the re-education of the teenagers is a chillingly logical, high-tech version of Lord of the Flies.

Chase is our guide in this specific hell, he is committed, driven one could say, but not perfect. He can be too focused on the big picture and (like so many of us) a paladin of the cause who finds it difficult to deal with the individual victims, or even like them (there are a few scenes with his own children where I would have liked to shake him), when push comes to shove, though, he comes out as a decent human being brave enough to do what is right, no matter the personal cost.

The fact that we see everything through Chase’s eyes is, for me, one of the limits of the novel. In my opinion the other characters aren’t developed to the same extent and we don’t get to see the reasons behind some of their choices or positions beyond what Chase witnesses directly or tells us.

Another issue I have is with the pacing: there are chronological jumps that come unexpected and move us beyond a possible climax, for instance we go from an audit with a senate commission about the proxy industry to three months after the President of the US has made his decision known and Chase fills us in with a recap. I experienced a few ‘Wait, what?’ moments, expecting  some ‘stepping-stone’ resolutions that, in novel-time, were already behind me.

All in all, though, for me, Provoke Not The Children is a very solid first offering from an author I’ll be keeping an eye on.

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