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THE GOOD HUMOR MAN - 2009
by Andrew Fox
DATE: The Near Future
ILLEGAL SUBSTANCES: Fat & Sugar
LEGAL EDIBLES: Food created by MannaSantos Corp.
FOOD LAW ENFORCERS: Good Humor Men
WEAPON OF CHOICE: Flamethrower
Good Humor Man Dr. Louis Shmalzberg is legally deputized by CA to confiscate and destroy contraband foodstuffs. As during The Prohibition, "the tasty stuff" can be illegally obtained. Based on tips, the Good Humor Men, armed with blowtorches (to burn the contraband) and guns, conduct raids. Those caught lose their health insurance. As with all criminals, resisting federal authority results in brute force, and sometimes death.
During fatter times, Dr. Walter Shmaltzberg, Louis's father, made his living through liposuction. He became famous after he did his first solo lipo surgery on Elvis Presly, who died soon after because he refused to stop taking drugs. Walter secretly (and illegally) kept a jar of Elvis's fat, which the family nicknamed The Elvis. Ever since he was a child, Louis revered the secret, and only, physical remains of The King. Louis took after his father - doing lipo, until the imposed national diet eliminated his job.
Before Hud Walterson became the first Good Humor Man, he weighed 900 pounds until he was transformed by a dietician, liposuction, stomach stapling, and new habits. It was the middle of the Second Great Depression so when Hal burned a bunch of junk food on TV, blaming ill health brought on by consuming fattening foods, the trend took off. Hud was a crusader and a celebrity. People loved watching him burn food with his flamethrower.
Louis and his wife, Emily, loved watching Hud. It distracted them from the cancer raging through her body. To keep his house and clinic, and to provide his beloved wife with cancer treatments, Louis secretly sold The Elvis. A few months after Emily died, one of Hud's junk food fires blazed out of control, destroying him and the building he was in. People watching him set their own unhealthy food aflame, and the craze blazed.
Louis convinced California that making unhealthy food as illegal as opium would save them from spending billions of dollars on people with obesity and the health problems it causes. MannaSantos Corp. became the monopoly that provided lean, low-calorie versions of "consumer safe" (though bland) foods - fruits, veggies, meats, and carbs.
27 years later…
Louis still misses Emily, though he uses a virtual reality helmet to "visit" her. He's illegally reconfigured the helmet, which allows him to see and feel Emily again, though he gets one hell of a migraine. He's also come to realize that he went just a tad overboard - eliminating fat completely has literally created smaller people, including shorter kids.
He helped create a monster, but now he has no way of caging it.
His once famous dad, now in a nursing home, lost far more weight in the last few months than he should have. Even the other residents are bony. Walter eats all the time but he's starving to death. Thankful he's a doctor, Louis quickly administers a few tests and learns his 90 year old father has the metabolism of a 40 year old marathon runner. Desperate to figure out why he, his dad, and others, are suddenly losing weight while eating regularly, Louis calls Harriet Lane, an old flame and an expert in human metabolism. Because she works for, and fears, MannaSantos Corp., Louis only gets quick, sporadic chats with her.
Eventually he learns that only The Elvis can prevent global starvation. At home, Louis gets a visit from the same two men who "looked in on" his father earlier in the week. First, a man from the Dept. of Agriculture seeks The Elvis, but won't say why, though he does warns Louis someone nasty also wants The Elvis. Not long after that, Louis gets a visit, and some injuries, from a Turkish-looking man who threatens to kill Louis's dad if he doesn't deliver The Elvis.
The day Louis quits his Good Humor Man job, he and his sister's family are caught eating illegally fattening food as part of the Jewish Passover meal. This leaves him with no job, income, or health care. He's gone from public authority to outcast.
Louis has many reasons to find The Elvis and even more obstacles blocking his path. I love the motivations, strange new world, and odds against the protagonist. It's an unusual plot with vivid, diversified characters. This isn't a boring book, but there are a few flaws…
The beginning of the book is confusing because events aren't told chronologically, though it's narrated as if it is. This makes it hard for readers to figure out the Brave Thin World's history and how it operates. As I reread various pages for this review, I pieced things together and understood why I initially felt a little lost. However, the world of fat-free, sugarless, low calorie foods kept me intrigued. I basically followed the plot and the story, told in first person, which mostly helped me stay with the story. I say "mostly" because when Louis was lost, so was I, and sometimes getting "unlost" took several pages.
Unsure how to proceed, Louis decides, "I must achieve Elvis consciousness" by taking the same drugs that were in Elvis's system when he died. And that helps how??? As a doctor, he knows drugs prevent people from thinking clearly - assuming he doesn't O.D. Dumbest move I've ever seen a protagonist make.
So Louis's quest ends in a bit of a muddled mess.
This review copyright 2010 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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