“Thank you, God, for your Son and for blessing me beyond comprehension.”
Those are Veronica Roth’s opening words in the “Acknowledgments” section of Divergent. Frankly, I’m amazed her book was allowed to be made into a movie. Anyhow, I must admit that those words made me favorably disposed to her.
Let me admit this, too: at the age of 23, when Divergent was published and became a best-seller, Veronica Roth was a much better writer than I was at that age. In fact, she is a fully accomplished writer and many writers, no matter how long they keep at it, will never catch up to her. I thought it odd at first that she wrote Divergent in the present tense, an unusual thing to do for such a long story. But I soon discovered that her style made the story flow very quickly–and also made the book kind of hard to put down.
“Yeah, but did you like it?”
Let me put it this way: I didn’t find the story an enjoyable experience. It’s much too dark for that, too much pain and suffering and grief and fear.
Very much like The Hunger Games, this is a grim tale of teenagers caught up in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world. I’m beginning to think nobody out there thinks our future’s going to turn out too well.
I would classify it as a fairy tale, only because I find it impossible to believe in the scenario.
After some unspecified man-made calamity nearly wipes out the human race, people have reorganized themselves into five “factions” that are each dedicated to one particular virtue, and only one, that is the opposite of the vice that almost erased humanity. For instance, those in the Abnegation faction believe that selfishness was the cause of our catastrophe, so they are devoted to selflessness. The Dauntless believe that cowardice was the cause, so they devote themselves to fearlessness. And so on.
At this point I begin to hear echoes of Edgar Rice Burroughs in The Chessmen of Mars. There, the Kaldanes cultivated the intellect at the expense of all else, evolving into fundamentally useless creatures. They at least had the excuse of not being human. But human beings cannot live on one single virtue alone.
Not that Veronica Roth is saying this is a good thing! She shows quite clearly that this model for civilization is not working.
Indeed, the only thing drearier than the setting of Divergent–the end of the world has not improved Chicago–is its characters and their lives. Tris, the protagonist, born Abnegation, joins Dauntless. As she learns the ways of her new faction–on your 16th birthday you have to choose which one you’ll belong to for the rest of your life–I found myself, the reader, thinking, “What kind of babbling crazy moron would ever want to live like this? This is horrible!” But we are led to suspect that life in any of the other factions isn’t any better.
Like The Hunger Games, Divergent is anything but a love-letter to the government wiz kids who, in both scenarios, wrecked civilization and then replaced it with a new system even worse than the original. Neither book leaves us in any doubt as to whose fault this is: the smarty-pants experts and the bloated big shots who kept telling us they knew what they were doing, and if we let them get on with it, they would lead us into an earthly paradise.
Does anybody but a registered Democrat still believe that?
Unlike The Hunger Games, glimmers of faith and godliness occasionally peek through the darkness of Divergent. I suppose I would have to read the sequels to see where, if anywhere, this is going.
Thing is, though, I don’t think I want to read the sequels. Living in the Obama era is dreary enough without having to imagine something worse.
One thing about Divergent, though, is crystal clear.
It is a warning.
We could wind up in a mess like this, if we don’t watch out.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.