A perfect counter to the anti-life fantasy fiction of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
“The cat’s out of the bag! Forget Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Gmitro’s novel PROVES that anti-choicers will ENSLAVE women as BREEDERS!”
There are three things wrong with the above paragraph, which would be what a typical anti-life feminist, foam flying out of her mouth in feverish and futile frustration, might say about George Gmitro’s novel, Viable@140.
First, get the easy part out of the way. There is no little kitty cat in a bag. Unlike the abortion business Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers have nothing to hide—except their strategic political plans to get rid of anti-lifers in office and replace them with pro-lifers.
Second, as much as I love Canada and the pro-life Canadians who suffer under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (whom I call “the Obama and Hillary of the North”), Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale is simply a fantasy. No amount of college professors who want to use her work as their fiction choice in upcoming English classes can transform it into anything other than the sheer fantasy of an aging feminist whose support for the destruction of the unborn is not matched by the tsunami of pro-life feminists who will take her place.
Third, Gmitro’s novel is a perfect counter to Atwood’s fantasy because, while it has some flaws, Viable@140 is fast-paced (unlike Atwood’s ultra-serious novel, Gmitro’s work can be read in one day), contains wicked humor (unlike Atwood’s intensely unfunny novel), and plausible (unlike Atwood’s ridiculous dystopia, since, as we all know, anti-lifers, being inherently intolerant and elitist, would enslave pro-lifers more than pro-lifers would ever subjugate anybody else).
But I slightly digress….
The claim could be made that Gmitro’s work justifies what every anti-lifer suspects: that pro-lifers want to kidnap pregnant women (aka mothers), render them unconscious, and force them to give birth. This summary approximates what some people think Margaret Atwood’s fantasy novel The Handmaid’s Tale suggests will happen if pro-lifers control society. This is the typical formulation of that tired and tiresome feminist principle that men are patriarchal and want to oppress women with the power of their literal or figurative phallus, blah blah blah. (Feminists say little about matriarchal oppression of men by women, but this simple book review by an ‘umble pro-life English professor is not the place to discuss such oppression.)
Patriarchy aside, readers will understand that the focus of the novel is to emphasize father’s rights over the mother’s or the unborn child’s rights. After all, when a father learns that his girlfriend (lover, fiancée, wife, mistress, whatever) wants to kill his unborn child, what would he do? To what length would the young father go to save his child? Would he just allow the mother to arrange an abortion at the nearest clinic or would he do something drastic to save her and their unborn child?
Gmitro’s fictional approach to solving this controversy is…well…unique. Lance, the father, abducts Sandi, his fiancée, while she is on the hospital gurney, waiting to abort their child, and sequesters her well beyond the point of viability so that she cannot abort. During this time he keeps her sedated; the mother is effectively silenced throughout the pregnancy.
Whether the author is serious about this as a solution or not is unnecessary to argue because I believe the literary perspective of the narrative is more important than the deeper legal and moral issues which the novel neglects. The anti-life mother is “out” of the picture, literally and figuratively. She is mercifully so, because most readers would compare her potty mouth on page 59 to the vulgarities spewed out either by an anti-life feminist or by the best that Hollywood can illustrate of an evil spirit being exorcised. Thus, readers will have a chance to hear from the second most silenced person involved in an abortion, the father. In Gmitro’s work it is the father who is able to explain his actions, who has his chance to speak about his love for his unborn child, and who shows that he wants his child even though the mother wants to destroy him or her.
Yep, anti-life feminists would be enraged by such a novel. “How dare any man voice support for his child. If that isn’t patriarchal oppression, then I don’t know what is.” How I would like to tell such an anti-lifer, “Shut up, just shad up…”
Aspetta! That’s just what Gmitro has achieved in this novel. The customary anti-life reasoning that every anti-life mother offers in other fiction is absent. In this fictional instance, the father—finally—has a turn to speak.
An additional feature of this novel is that, a few minor passages aside, it is not didactic or preachy as one might expect from characters who ostensibly come from a Baptist Christian background. Pro-lifers would appreciate the humor throughout the novel. For example, the names of the various characters conjure up both pro- and anti-lifers: the abortionist Griswold, who hails from Connecticut (page 45); Candee Williams from the anti-life network NSMBC (page 54); FBI agent Ben Casey (page 99); a greedy character named Cindy Pelozi (page 145); an anti-lifer named Davin Souter (page 152); Stare Decisis, the name of the “steep ridge” around the villa where Lance is keeping Sandi (page 205); Colorado Governor Blackmun (page 229); pro-life activist Pam McKorvey (page 232); Georgia Democrat Senator Ann Soto Mayer (page 299); and newly-appointed Supreme Court Justice Reilly (page 301). The characterization of that eminently weak and virulently anti-life president that the United States endured for eight tragic years (Obama) is true to life.
Some characterizations, however, make me want to scream out. Why, for example, is Lance so gullible or such an innocent that he can’t see that his fiancée is a material girl? I mean, is sex with her that enjoyable if he knows that she is ephemeral and contrary to his Horatio Alger values? The reader has to conclude that his Baptist Christian training about sexuality must not have been as complete as that for orthodox Catholics.
The novel has some technical flaws. For example, omitted commas before and after appositions are annoying punctuation errors which hamper a quick read of various lines using direct address. Some grammar errors will stop the educated reader from appreciating the flow of the narrative. Also, the last thirty or so pages are composed of too much dialogue instead of descriptive details and dialogue, which can confuse the reader. It is hoped that future reprints of the work will correct these errors.
Gmitro’s work is a good read not only because the action is fast-paced, but also because the plot is plausible, dramatizing a complex philosophical problem. The question posed on the novel’s promotional materials (“When it comes to the life of your child, just how far would you go?”) is worth raising. While I hope that men do not use Lance’s ignoble means of abducting his fiancée for the noble means of saving her and her unborn child, I can see how some unfortunate radical person who claims to be pro-life (or desperate father, who wants to save his child from being aborted) would conclude that the main character’s activity is morally good. Such a possibility is frightening because no one would want to see any father take matters into his own hands by kidnapping the mother of his child and forcing her to give birth.
Over all, Gmitro’s novel can lead to a fruitful discussion of moral principles which most colleges and universities ignore. Move over Margaret Atwood; your anti-life fantasy novel has been replaced by a more plausible, life-affirming one.