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Friday, June 4, 2010

The Snowy Sledgehammer of Doom

Take one fashion model--past her “peak” days, but still in high-enough demand to earn a more-than comfortable living doing print ads as the “mom” or the “elegant socialite”. Give this model an estranged daughter--a troubled young woman in her early 20s who knows only that she wants to be everything her glamorous, self-absorbed mother isn’t. Then, for good measure, throw in a radical environmental-activist group and a top-secret government report detailing some startling new research on global warming; add the mind-boggling power of the internet (the best way to quickly disseminate information and/or propaganda around the world, ever); and--just to keep the mixture spicy--toss in a smidgeon of gung-ho military and ex-military personnel, always itching to see a little more action, to go on one more offensive, to shoot another big gun. Finally, to make things really, really interesting, add a barren, bitterly-cold, snow-covered wilderness that stretches on and on, as far as the eye can see. Mix those ingredients up well, and you’ve got the recipe for author Mark Nykanen’s recent eco-thriller, Primitive.
The basic plot of Primitive is interesting enough, in a “gosh, that kinda thing could maybe really happen!” way. Recognizable forty-something model Sonya Adams gets a last-minute call from her agency to hop on a plane bound for a remote Idaho location, where she’ll do a photo-shoot for an outdoors catalog. Despite the fact that it’s her daughter’s birthday--the crunchy-granola, raw-foods, thinking-about-getting-a-tattoo daughter whom Mom doesn’t “get”, at all, but would really like to, now--Sonya decides to cut short the little celebration and scrambles to make the flight. (Bad move, Mom. I'm just sayin'...) 
Upon landing in Idaho, Sonya is met by a driver (holding only a ratty piece of cardboard with her name hastily Magic Markered onto it) who'll take her to the photo shoot--which is when things suddenly go horribly wrong. As soon as she is settled into the back of the car, the privacy glass goes up and she finds herself locked in. Then the heater kicks on, full blast. Alarmed and sweating, she pounds on the divider and screams at the driver she can no longer see, asking what’s going on.
The answer, Sonya soon finds, is shocking; she’s been kidnapped by a neo-primitive group of environmentalists. Even worse, the group--calling themselves Terra Firma--plan to hold her captive in their remote little wilderness compound for a period of one year, during which time they’ll be posting video links of her experiences on the Web. Their goal? To show the world how this woman--the embodiment of the beautiful, upper-class sophisticate living a life of luxury--represents all the bad in society, and the bad things being done to the environment. They want to win her over to their side by immersing her completely into a way of life more in unison with Mother Earth.
To this end, her clothes, shoes, and jewelry are taken from her; they’re replaced with the same wardrobe everyone else in Terra Firma wears: woolen long-johns, rawhide pants and shirt, and a bearskin coat. Everyone eats primarily that which they grow or kill. Bathing is done--publicly--in a natural hotspring. The life Sonya faces for the next 12 months is as far removed from anything she’s ever known, as living on the moon would be.
The Terra Firmans have more up their rawhide sleeves than holding one middle-aged model hostage, though. Besides broadcasting (highly-edited) clips of Sonya online, they’re using their messages to allude to a secret government report they’ve (somehow) acquired, which supposedly has some pretty bad things to say about Big Oil and the future of the planet. They plan to start releasing parts of this report on Christmas Day (only a couple of weeks away). 
In the news, the search for the kidnapped model is causing a real furor among the average Joes and Janes watching, but in reality, of course, it’s the secret report which has the government muckety-mucks, lobbyists, and big corporations so worried. Sonya’s daughter Darcy (doing a complete 180 on her feelings for her mom) soon realizes that finding and recovering her mom is only of secondary interest even to the FBI, so she sets out on her own, making arrangements with some of her “fringe-ier” friends (the kind with ties to ecological terrorism and experience in evading the authorities) to track Sonya’s whereabouts. Meanwhile, Sonya plots ways to escape her wilderness prison, wanting nothing more than another chance to patch things up with her daughter. (Nothing like a little bout of kidnapping to put family squabbles into perspective, it seems.)

The rest of the book is the usual race to the finish. Will Sonya be rescued in time? Will she and her daughter have that happy reunion? Will the very bad people--who do some very bad things in the story--receive their just desserts? (And etc.)
Although I actually read Primitive a few months ago, it’s certainly more timely right now... with the world watching, horrified, as oil giant BP fails spectacularly and tragically--again and again and again--to stop the massive oil leak which has been contaminating--and will continue to do so for years to come--the ecosystem all along the Gulf Coast. 
Nykanen makes quite a few observations about how we’ve been living (the resources we take for granted, using and abusing, for instance) and offers some ideas for alternatives. (Regardless of the intrinsic soundness--or otherwise--of those assertions, they do make you stop and think.) Unfortunately, though, that’s also one of the problems with a book like this. In making his points, the author is very heavy-handed; his position is just too obvious, and sometimes it felt more like I was reading an informational pamphlet than a thriller. (In writer-speak, he went the route of telling rather than showing, which is never as good.) His characters suffered from his obvious bias, too; the lot of them were stereotypical, telegraphing what they were going to do long before they did it. (Since he worked for some years as an award-winning investigative correspondent for NBC, I found the transparency of Nykanen’s message a little disappointing; I just wanted him to write better and to surprise me more in this so-called thriller.)  
In the end, I’m neither going to recommend nor warn you away from this book. If you're able to see past the hyperbole, it definitely has some merit. And, if it causes even a few people to think about, to discuss, and to research less-harmful alternatives, it may even do some good.
GlamKitty rating: 2.5 catnip mice (out of 5 possible) 




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