Twenty Thirtyis a novel set in a world that seems almost unimaginable now, one in which many of our greatest problems seem to have been solved. But Albert Brooks’ imagined future is far from a utopia, and it’s at the tipping point between everything being fine and everything nose diving toward hell that Brooks begins his story.
Cancer was cured in 2014, and this and other medical advances have made 80 the new 40. Baby Boomers who should have died decades prior are still kicking, and the generation that followed them is even more active and vibrant. This means, among many other things, that more active seniors are walking the Earth than anyone ever imagined. Healthcare has become so expensive that it’s nearly impossible to get when you really need it, and social security expenditures have skyrocketed. For the first time, the younger generation is faring worse than their forbears, and some of them are very, very pissed off about it.
Violence against the “olds” – shootings, beatings and the like – is just beginning to become a national issue in the
when a bigger problem literally shakes the earth. A massive earthquake hits United States , leveling the city. The flattened site of the Rose Bowl becomes a mass dormitory for exiled Californians, diseases dormant in Los Angeles for centuries are popping up amid the lack of sanitation, and the new half-Jewish president has to find a way to rebuild one of his largest cities with a treasury already irrevocably in the red. America
This is Brooks’ not quite apocalyptic backdrop, on which he weaves the stories of the president, his charming new secretary of the treasury, a young man on a crusade to restrict the power of “olds,” a cancer-curing scientist trying to solve a new set of problems, an Asian businessman trying to reform healthcare and a senior citizen stuck in the tented ruins of the Rose Bowl while the government tries to sort out what’s left of his home city. It’s an ambitious intermingling of worldviews, passions and deep concerns with the kind of well-developed scope that few first novels have. Even if the scenarios played out in Twenty Thirty seem unlikely to those of a certain political, moral, economic or scientific disposition, the internal conviction of the story keeps the pages turning.
Brooks also brings his skill with dialogue, which pervades his films, to bear on his prose. When the characters speak, each speaks with a dynamic and genuine voice, from the wise-cracking president to the overzealous equal rights crusader. Where Brooks reveals his status as a new novelist is in his narration. It’s the kind of stripped down, plot-only prose that would weigh down or even doom a lesser storyteller. Luckily, Brooks has the personality and confidence of story to outweigh such a fault, and as obviously unadorned as Twenty Thirty seems at times, its lack of narrative varnish almost becomes one of its charms.
Most impressive of all is Brooks’ ability to somehow craft an entertaining and even funny book out of such a grim scenario. He never glosses over what his characters are facing, and yet Twenty Thirty ranges from being a wise amusement at worst to an inspired joy at best. It’s at once prophetic and satirical, and though (mechanically, at least) it often seems like the work of a beginner, the insight and moxie of the overall work makes it shine.