Before about three years ago, I had no idea M.T. Anderson had a career outside of writing the maniacally brilliant Thrilling Tales series, which deftly subverted and thoroughly deconstructed the tropes and conventions of 20th century children’s literature, and the eerie fantasy novel The Game of Sunken Places which also gives a spin on old cliches. As I found out, he had also written several edgy books for young adults as well, including the entertaining 18th century literature pastiche Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, the bleak vampire novel Thirsty, and this book. Jeez louise, was I not prepared for this book! It’s about a kid who lives in a society where vampiric, oppressive corporations have taken over the world, and are slowly destroying it, through environmental destruction, total impingement of all perceivable civil liberties, and a chip implanted in people’s head called “the feed” that is basically a parasitic computer disguised as a part of the brain. He and his girlfriend try to resist the feed, but, in short, it doesn’t work.
I thought I was accustomed to dystopian fiction. Of dystopian fiction, I’ve read 1984, Brave New World, The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, The Giver, and Snow Crash. Make no mistake, whatever their resolution was, these books were depressing. But nothing I’ve read, dystopian or otherwise was as soul-crushingly dour as this book. It was funny, and well written, but it was also gut-wrenchingly painful.
At the end of Brave New World, 1984, and all the other books I named, there was a spark of hope, or an outright happy ending. At the end of Feed there is none of that. Just suffocating paranoia and despair. Only the skin-crawlingly awful endings of the Series of Unfortunate Events books compare. Even despite its 2002 publishing date, and its Bush-era malaise, it’s scarily prescient of the smartphone age, which disturbs me to the core. Although, this book is witty, and well observed, and it captures perfectly a society where the attributes of today’s teens were taken to their logical extreme.
There are a lot of blackly hilarious moments, such as the “Hipster Nostalgia Feedback Syndrome”, and the “Nike Speech Tattoo”, that lighten up the darker moments, but an overwhelming sense of dread really pervades this book. The main character isn’t very likable, but he’s a product of his environment. Like with a lot of Anderson’s books, the other characters aren’t very well developed, but they are rounder than other of his books. There were a lot of great, acrid bits in this, but I would have liked this book better if it wasn’t just so darn heartbreaking.