Jul 25, 2018

By Jesse Andrews, 404 pgs.

I know young adult literature contains a lot of dystopias. But how many of them are Marxist dystopias? Or are all dystopias Marxist, really?

And I need to annotate the above paragraph. “Young adult”—yes, Munmun was published as a young adult novel, but my introduction to this book was hearing author Jesse Andrews read the first chapter (at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse near Los Angeles), and it sounded to me like it was a science fiction novel written for everyone. And “Marxist”—even Marxists will agree that “Marxist” frequently means “tedious,” which is not at all the case with Munmun.

Munmun doesn’t extrapolate from our America to a future America. It’s set in an America-like land in which people’s sizes correspond with how much money they have, from littlepoors to middlepoors to middleriches to bigriches—according to the guide at the front of the book, littlepoors are larger than squirrels but smaller than full-grown cats. Munmun is money.

How will a twenty-first century young adult with regular access to social media respond to a politically bleak and angry novel like Munmun? I don’t know. I do know that, at one point, following a political conversation between two of the characters, I had to stop reading and re-accept the truth that few activities are more difficult than getting poor people to vote. In Munmun, characters try to trade sex for advancement, and force people into sadistic videos—and the condescension: I’d forgotten (if I ever really knew) how much condescension comes with poverty.

But enough about the novel’s ideas. Vladimir Nabokov said, “Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash,” and it’s the language that makes this book. In addition to words like the above-mentioned “littlepoor” and “bigrich,” much of the language takes oft-used current phrases and turns them into one word—“ofcourse,” “afterall,” “directdeposit,” “selfsabotage”—which strikes me as something that might actually happen. Plus, in the tradition of old-school science fiction, Andrews creates words with built-in commentary, my favorite being “salesfriend” for sales clerk.

Politically, Jesse Andrews and science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein couldn’t be further apart, but with its language, Munmun belongs on the same shelf as Heinlein’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress. Heinlein’s novel is as libertarian as Andrews is Marxist, but both feature a hybrid English (Heinlein’s is rhythmically Russian) and both feature elaborately created worlds, with immensely entertaining narratives. –Jim Woster (Amulet Books,