February 12, 2014

Last Wild Boy not very successful

The Last Wild Boy
by Hugh MacDonald

In a city called Aahimsa, men have become outsiders - forced to live outside the city walls. Those who aren't terminated are kept as laborers or sperm donors. Sexual relations are forbidden and children are conceived by artificial insemination or cloning. The city is ruled by women, also known as insiders. In this futuristic story, an insider named Nora finds an outsider baby. Her decision to keep him becomes a desperate life or death struggle. 

The story is divided into three parts. The first part describes Nora's escape from Aahimsa, the second part has her meeting an outsider named Mabon, who helps her find the Happy Valley, and the third part takes place nine years later, when the valley comes under attack. A subplot concerns Nora's friend Alice, who is the daughter of Blanchefleur, the mayor of Aahimsa. Blanchefleur is determined to eliminate Nora and Adam (the baby grown into a boy), while Alice prepares for her future as a mother-to-be. 

I couldn't help comparing The Last Wild Boy with Lois Lowry's superior novel‚ The Giver.  Both portray seemingly safe communities that mask ulterior undercurrents, both have babies in need of saving, and both feature characters who dare to look for something better. However, MacDonald's story lacks the subtlety of Lowry's novel and the emotional resonance is somewhat muted. Part of the reason is writing quality. Where Lowry keeps to one perspective and uses tight, descriptive prose, MacDonald offers several perspectives and long, overly descriptive passages. He describes every character's appearance, every act they undertake, and every detail of any room they happen to be in. It slows the story's pace, and makes for stretches of boring reading.

Another reason is the story itself. Jonas, of The Giver‚ comes by his awareness gradually, so that his reasons for saving Gabriel is very clear. It's uncertain why Nora decides to save Adam. She is fully aware of termination and up until she finds the baby, she has no problem with it. Indeed, she gets angry when anything contradicts the history that she knows. Even though she and Mabon have a growing attraction, and they've lived among outsiders for nearly ten years, her views haven't changed. She even prevents Adam from knowing about his past and why he is special.

Alice (Nora's friend) is an underused character. She is even more conflicted than Nora because she will eventually succeed her mother as mayor. But she is given little to do. I suspect MacDonald was unsure about her also since her scenes always felt like an intrusion.

The ending leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and Adam's easy acquiescence (to go into hiding) is mystifying. Maybe if it had been Adam's story to begin with, The Last Wild Boy might have been a more satisfying book.

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