In the novel MUNDANITY, author Jonathan Carreau puts the phrase “I don’t care if you’re black, white, or purple” on its head. In the world of the book, skin colors range from green and blue to purple and gray, with none of the “natural” colors from our world. Society, however, is much like our own—internet celebrities, economic inequality, and nuclear family dynamics included. The protagonist, Vince, moves to the city of Mundanity from his rural hometown in search of a job to help his parents get by and a chance to bloom as an independent adult. With his insular, somewhat sheltered upbringing, Vince is shocked at the homophobia and racism that pervades the town of Mundanity, despite its motto of “Prosperity and Normality.” When the mayor of twenty years retires and a tense political campaign begins, Vince is blindsided by the bigotry of the people in the city and by his own straight, male, green-skinned privilege. Fantasy-sounding names of cities and countries and the small change of human skin colors makes the book just different enough from our world that it sheds new light on politically charged behaviors and beliefs in the twenty-first century.
Vince discovers his own beliefs and understandings of the world alongside the reader. His motivations and fears are revealed through his dynamic dialogue and interactions with other characters, each of whom has their own vibrant personality and backstory. Dialogue does double duty in providing engaging, character-driven entertainment and exploring political ideologies that build a sense of reality in the world of the novel. When Vince first meets his purple-skinned neighbor Reese, for instance, the boy calls him homophobic slurs as a way of establishing masculine comradery, and when Vince just can’t take it any more—after having begun to educate himself on social justice issues—he calls him a racial slur (purp, akin to “perp,” as in in “perpetrator) causing an explosive argument. The results of their subsequent explorations of these words and their significance shows powerful character growth for both individuals and makes the story richer.
While the novel mainly follows Vince through his first year or so living in Mundanity, it also dips into the perspectives of other characters in alternating chapters. These scenes show the layered realities of people’s experiences in Mundanity while also driving the plot forward. Occasional chapters depict Vince’s coworker, Jermaine, for instance, as he grows exceedingly convinced that “togetherists,” “womanists,” and “modernists” are out to get green-skinned men, leading to the book’s explosive climax, in which he commits an extreme act that rocks the city to its core. Information that helps in world-building is revealed in moments that best help push the story forward and promote an understanding of what is happening in the present, such as when Vince registers to vote in Mundane County and discovers that the rules are considerably stricter than in his hometown. This technique makes for a striking and seamless reading experience and helps keep a swift and steady pace that mirrors the escalating drama of the election campaign. The story builds to its startlingly emotional conclusion, which is followed by a brief fast-forward into Vince’s future to show how the tragedy and the results of the election changed the political and social landscape of the town that is miles beyond “mundane.”
With its worthy hero and successful world-building, Jonathan Carreau’s MUNDANITY is a dazzling novel that reflects many of the political tensions in America at this time.
~Aimee Jodoin for IndieReader