My name is Richard and I am a psychopath. I don’t know your name, but apparently you’re a psychopath too. The premise of Psychopaths Anonymous is that they’re everywhere ‘your brother, your mother, your babysitter, dog walker, solicitor and doctor’. And Will Carver’s new novel suggests it’s no more than we deserve: as a society we’re addicted to our fixes and there can be no redemption in a world that is run by Friends of Maeve.
Maeve is a stand-out protagonist: a monster, a serial killer, a woman of specific requirements, often witty with it: Ayn Rand with some of a personality. She has strongly held views on the basis for human motivation. She will kill to defend free will, which is clearly a nonsense. She thinks deeply and has sharp observations which seem logical and semi-plausible but which for all (or because of) their ‘real world’ wisdom are just as subjective and contradictory as anything else you’ll hear on talk radio. She’s aggressive and antagonistic. To know her would be exhausting. Far better to follow her adventures on the printed page.
Her saving graces: some genuinely funny turns of phrase and a complete lack of hypocrisy. And she is undoubtedly good at reading people: a true skill. But while other anthropologists might be interested in the human condition, Maeve is interested mainly in her own pleasures and in sticking two fingers up at religion both organised and not. It feels like a bit of a waste, but it’s precisely the point. For Maeve, today’s society of influencers and reality television makes the causes of our joy transparent. We are delighted because we understand how this chemical (whether in alcohol or from the dopamine that arises from the gratification we get on social media) works, and in Maeve’s view we should just embrace it. We are all complicit and in a nice piece of fourth-walling, Carver points out that something as supposedly innocent as book reviewing is just as false and rotten. So when Maeve explains the addictiveness of America’s Next Top Novel we nod and understand. The book itself is a bit like that: we live vicariously through Maeve’s toxic adventures – she does just enough, enough of the time to be interesting and occasionally relatable. We keep watching, even if at times it is through our fingers. See, she says, you’re not that much better than me. This is a black comedy, and a thriller, but also a classic dystopia, where a weird coalition of self-help groups and reality media moguls have power.
We know, deep down, that most of society is not like this – that Carver, like Maeve, is playing with us, giving us enough of a peek at the joke to be in on it. We know enough about addictions to know the extent to which we are being drawn in. And we know enough about addictions to realise that Maeve’s triumph and her whole existence are hollow. That does not mean that this novel is any less a warning. Maeve’s comments on how society values the most vulnerable, and on humanity’s complacency on the environment are no less accurate and valid because of the narrator.
Maybe, just maybe, we’re not actually psychopaths after all. Maeve would be utterly indifferent either way. Is Will Carver indifferent (or indeed a psychopath)? I don’t know. But his reputation for original, boundary-pushing fiction, seems utterly earned.
Thanks to Orenda Books for the review copy and to Anne Cater for the blog tour invitation.