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Robert G. Collins.

Toronto, Lester & Orpen Dennys, c1983.
241pp, cloth, $17.95.
ISBN 0-88619-020-7.

Grades 11 and up.
Reviewed by Boh Kinczyk.

Volume 12 Number 3
1984 May

The year is 1999. Mankind is so brutal, violence is so commonplace that North American civilization is all but dead. As part of the morning routine, one listens to the CBC morning news for the local forecast:

       It will be another day at least before public transportation begins again
       and schools and theatres reopen. The National Capital Region computer forecast
       for today remains at Unacceptable Levels of Violence. But we're only one point
       below that red line, and I think we can promise our audience a socially active
       day tomorrow. . .and probably for a few days after that, with Tolerable Levels
       of Violence for the rest of the week.

This is an optimistic forecast. Tolerable Levels of Violence are so rare that John Cobbett, the protagonist, never works more than fifty days a year: it is too dangerous.

His home in the Ottawa Valley is a fortress, an island of civilization in a sea of death and destruction. Electric fences and force fields surround his estate; guns and rifles protect it. Cobbett tries valiantly to protect his home, his family, and his hope for the future, but his role as guardian is severely compromised when he himself must resort to violence. He becomes what he most despises.

A writer and teacher, Cobbett struggles with ideas: What does it mean to be human? Does art have any value in the world? Will there be a tomorrow with a recognizable human face? Eventually, though, the struggle to survive must completely overshadow Cobbett's philosophical speculations.

The novel is rich with gorgeous passages and startling thoughts. But in the end it fails. The world is at once too familiar (the Ottawa Valley fifteen years from now) and too unrecognizable (arbitrary, meaningless acts of violence at every turn). Perhaps some readers will be able to accept the novel's premise and see in Collins's dystopia a dire warning of where we are headed. I can't. In my view, the far-fetched plot is simply an excuse to let Collins have his say about art and life and what it means to be human.

Boh Kinczyk, Central Elgin C. I., St. Thomas, ON.
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