Duck Duck Book

24 – greenfinger
09.7.2005, 12:04 am
Filed under: fiction

Greenfinger / Julian Rathbone.
New York, N.Y. : Viking, 1987.
[MCL call number: FICTION RATHBONE; one copy, no holds]

Sometimes I think in themes, especially when it comes to literature. I imagine some of this is just part of my personality, as I have always liked lists and enjoyed putting things in groups with other things they seem to be like. It also seems likely that my work as a librarian encourages this kind of thinking — librarians are called upon to help people find a book that’s like the one they just finished, we create booklists on defined subjects, we sort and classify the materials in our library collections — and, of course, we think about all of these things, we dwell on how people use resources, the architectures inherent in information as it comes to us, and many other philosophical aspects of the work that we do.

Well, Greenfinger is a book that, to me, falls into a category. It is a novel about more or less regular people who find themselves turning into heroes, crusaders, people who cannot sit by and let things happen — all because they notice and cannot ignore the sheer evil of a profit-driven international corporation. Such stories are almost always thrillers, but they fall into different genre categories — mystery, adventure, romance — and can be told in different media — fiction, comics, film, etc.

In Greenfinger‘s first two chapters, the basics of the tale are laid out — Costa Rica’s land reform laws allow, in theory, for people who have farmed their land for a certain number of years to claim formal legal title to it. A giant multinational corporation is angling to control the world’s food supply through politics, brute force, and the commodification of science. Politicians are subject to pressure from big money. The United Nations straddles the tightrope between toadying to the powerful and serving the interests of the world’s people and environment.

The story is told from different points of view — some in the third person and describing the activities of various evil characters, or characters who are somewhat morally neutral — and some in the first person in the voice of Esther Somers, who is mother to baby Zena, wife to a lower level U.N. official, and who is far smarter than anyone else in the book. Esther kicks ass, in fact.

A prolonged scene near the end of the book shows us Esther, with small Zena strapped to her back in a Snugli, running long-distance through the Costa Rican jungle, pursued by a very fit and rather psychopathic ex-SAS killer-for-hire. Everyone who has previously been on her side is either dead or completely unavailable, and so Esther runs, she climbs, she waits patiently, she outwits, and rather than merely surviving, she and Zena can be said to win, without apologies, in the end.

(The farmers, the environment, and the world’s hungry do not win — though I don’t mean to spoil the plot for you.)


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