By Michael Podgurney
CALGARY – Imagine walking through a graveyard on a sunny afternoon. You find solace in the names, dates, inscriptions and fresh patches of sod, guiding your consciousness toward the impermanence of life. The constant search for meaning pauses, if only for a moment.
As a society we have tried (with varying levels of success) to give life and death dignity and meaning, even if meaning is just a striving for something better. Dystopian novels like Madelaine Shaw-Wong’s second full-length novel Quietus add depth and tangibility to the nagging suspicion that this society, and its future, is just one boob job (or baby skin transplant in Shaw-Wong’s world) away from selling its soul to a devil of its own creation.
Aura Zarling is the manifestation of this creature in Quietus, and Covona is the country under her boot. The plot follows the interweaving threads of protagonist Tresha Farwell, her husband Fillip and the antagonist Dr. Piter Dram. Their relationship begins on congenial terms, but degrades into a horrifying game of evasion and delusion once they become entrenched in their opposing ideologies. After a war with the neighbouring country of Solime, Covona turns into a nightmare with food shortages, worthless economic prospects and widespread suffering.
There’s no medicine at the free clinic Dr. Dram works for and Tresha is lucky to hold on to a position as a reporter. In typical political fashion, Aura Zarling comes along with her sparkling promises and charming threats, and the population of Covona can’t wait to start burning churches and killing old people. So, that’s what they do.
The legalization and promotion of euthanasia, euphemistically called Quietus, becomes the power behind the ethical battleground of the novel.
“An aberration of medicine,” explains Shaw-Wong of the highly contested practice; “taking life instead of saving it.”
Indeed, the discussion of human euthanasia in western society, as well as the plethora of industrial strength dictatorships in the last century or so have sculpted the plot of this work. Shaw-Wong’s approach to building the atmosphere of Covona’s society is textbook. “Totalitarianism creeps into society bit by bit,” she says.
“People don’t say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have no freedoms?’”
Liberties are slowly eroded with dubious justifications and fear is employed to manufacture consent. Rewards are doled out for those who fall in line and dissidents are killed or hunted down and imprisoned.
Where Quietus finds strength is in its depiction of the machinery of oppressive society. It’s laid out in a detached and methodical style. There is no shortage of faceless police, guards, doctors and human cattle acting out the impulses of their hatred and fear. There’s plenty of “fake news” and accusations of criminality. Some of the most vivid passages in the novel are moments when dissidents are tortured in order to extract false confessions at the QRR centres (Quietus/Recycling/Research Centres). Here, the Nazi-like eradication programs are deployed in order to “speed up the process of natural selection.”
Shaw-Wong’s investment in this novel is personal. She has two siblings with autism who “spent much of their youth institutionalized and unaccepted by society.”
She sees a disturbing reality in the embracement of legalized euthanasia in western society. In sum, her message is clear: “A kind and giving society takes care of its weakest members.” The question she asks is how far society is willing to go on the euthanasia train?
Quietus will be released November 14 at Owl’s Nest Books (Calgary) and November 18 at Audrey’s Books (Edmonton).Audrey’s Books, Book, Novel, Owl's Nest Books, Quietus