Flowers of Desolation
a review of The Guardener's Tale by Bruce Boston
The dystopian novel has often served as a mirror to society and the complexities of the human
soul, and it has a deep pedigree, from Yevgeny Zemyatin's We (1921), through George Orwell's
1984 (1949), to Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953). Each of these books has provided a
cautionary tale, thinly-veiled, of those dangers of forced conformity that seem to appear in new
forms with each generation.
Bruce Boston joins this arc of creation with The Guardener's Tale, but Boston's work differs
almost immediately from the novels listed above, in that it refuses the black and white structure of
noncomformity=good, and conformity=evil. What he brings us is a much more powerful
exploration, into layers of the psyche that comprise the foundations of both personal and societal
order and rebellion.
The reader will be challenged immediately with the book's remarkable structure. The narrator is
preparing a report concerning aberrant characters that have been his prisoners, but he chooses to
do so in the form of a novel-inside-the-report, because he feels that it will not only shed light onto
the psychologies of his subjects, but will also present these troubled lives in a way that captures
abstracts; shades of personality that would be lost in a dry collection of facts. He wishes not only
to understand, but experience the forces that have caused these individuals to go off society's
Puzzles within puzzles, and the story that emerges in Boston's novel will veer wildly into places both
unexpected and fascinating.
The first piece of the puzzle is the philosophy of the Guardeners themselves. These are the forces
of societal order, and Boston fashions them with all the richness of his poetic hand. Guardeners
scan the minds of those considered aberrant, and from those scans glean patterns, the most
desirable to society being one that strongly resembles a flower. When this pattern is diverged
from, they prune the emotional and intellectual strands that distort the flower using a kind of
psychosurgery, in the hope that the result will be a happier, more stable, and productive citizen.
But the characters on both sides of this equation, the supposedly stable and the supposedly
aberrant, are morally elusive. They are attracted to each other, and flawed in a myriad of ways that
prevent them from becoming familiar stereotypes.
Few writers can match Boston's scintillating gift for language. The buildings, monuments, streets
and homes of his City come to vivid life: slums and glittering towers alike are drawn with subtlety
and intensity. Through a lattice of interwoven scenes, the complex nature of the outward world is
reflected in a dance of psychology among the book's characters. As a reader I was drawn into this
dance with a strength that soon felt like obsession; I could not stop reading, as I became more and
more deeply enmeshed in the lives unfolding from page to page.
A stable but unsatisfied worker who fantasizes about adventure finds it; a love affair with
passionately jagged edges of physical and mental rapture literally splits his personality in two. A
half-brother and sister walk a dangerous line between the worlds of plenty and poverty. A
manipulative and ambitious wife (or "chosenmate") drifts up and down a scale of using and being
used until it all falls apart around her. A Guardener vacillates between cruel arrogance and
sympathetic introspection toward his subjects.
There is no black, no white. In one scene, a character watching a videodrama with the sound
down confuses the hero and villain of the piece.
I have tried to put my finger on what makes this story so much more compelling than the common
novel of an oppressive future. Perhaps dystopian tales have missed an essential point over
almost a hundred years of classic (and not-so-classic) novels: that all systems
(conformist and nonconformist) are populated by flawed and complex people, who can never quite
name or govern their desires. Boston has no use for stereotypes -- he demolishes them with a
hammer of narrative virtuosity that is breathtaking.
This book refuses to pander. Complex and thought-provoking scenes will continue to the very end.
The book's final scene is not even one of the book's central characters, but displays a doctor, who
physically removes an appealing mask from his scarred face, and muses with complete certainty
on the fact that no patient could possibly trust him were they to see him with a clarity that includes
those damaged features.
No easy way out here.
Not from internal or external dystopia -- not from a world laced with wonder and horror, that will
remain with you long after you set down this fine book.
(reviewed by Malcolm Deeley)
The Guardener's Tale by Bruce Boston, is available in a signed and numbered limited edition.
More information can be found at
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