M.T. Anderson, Feed, Candlewick Press, 2012, 978-0-763662622
M.T. Anderson was so successful at depicting a superficial, mindless society in the beginning of his book Feed that I almost gave up reading, unwilling to plunge into such a world. The impression was reinforced by the off-hand, futuristic lingo of young people and less young people that the author had crafted. In the audiobook version I listened to, the medium was cleverly used to render the fragments of feeds in the story with music and jingles, the whole works. Feeds? Think Internet and radio and TV all combined with tailor-made ads based on people’s thoughts and desires fed directly into their brains.
One of the key questions raised by Feed is the weakening of dividing lines that define us and our world. The introduction of the Internet blurred the divide between private and public space, allowing outside influences to penetrate our hitherto private spaces. But the space that the Internet accesses is necessarily outside the body. Feed toys with the consequences of a deliberate break-down of the line between outside and inside the body, where information feeds interact directly with the mind. It also talks about the loss of self that comes from commercial interests whittling down possibilities, even though it is presented as the ultimate personalisation of choice, and the related loss of discernment about what is and isn’t of interest to a particular person and in fine the disempowerment of the individual who no longer controls who or what he or she is.
The story is built up neither on the physical world the characters live in nor on their action in the traditional sense of the word, but on the way people behave as subjects of the feed. For Titus, the main character, what the reader perceives as a dystopian world, is completely normal and self-evident. As a result, the first person narrative confines the reader to an alarmingly narrow reality, all the more so that little or no meaningful action takes place till Violet turns up with her unexpected behaviour that is both appealing and troubling. Enough said. Far be it for me to re-tell the story.
Approaching the narration in terms of behaviour rather than action produces a deceptively light-weight tale, as if nothing of consequence happens compared with such action-packed stories like Divergent or the Hunger Games. This impression is reinforced by the inability of Titus to grasp or react to the tragedy that is taking place. Rather than being connected, he is cut off from the world and the feelings around him. As a reader I wanted to shake him awake. What a jerk! Yet this story is profoundly thought-provoking and for all the apparent superficiality of the world described, the ending is deeply moving.