Wild life by Liam Brown is a story of survival, the perpetual struggle between man and nature and what happens when the rules of a civilized society are cast out. When the facade of sophistication crashes, it gives way to our darker, feral instincts.This is the story of Adam and how his seemingly perfect life as a thriving account manager takes a turn for the worse after economic crisis.
Adam’s life is the epitome of the urban success story. He is an archetypal corporate drone with all the trappings of success -a budding career, picture perfect family and snazzy lifestyle fueled by drugs and occasional liaisons. And then it all goes south. Recession hits the UK, and as the stock market plummets, so does Adam’s career. He is a victim of the collateral damage of redundancy. When we meet Adam in the beginning, he is on the cusp of a downward spiral. He is jobless and his employment chances are next to zero in face of the economic crash, knee deep in gambling debts and is keeping his family in the dark about his current state of affairs. This predicament has kicked his drug dependence up a notch, and he spends most of his days evading thinking about his troubles by sniffing coke.
In a weak moment, Adam makes the impulsive and might I say, cowardly, decision to run away but soon he realizes none of his old friends want to accommodate him which leaves him disillusioned. Homeless and inebriated, he makes a botched suicide attempt and wakes up to find himself with Rusty, a dishevelled, strange man who inducts him in his coterie of down on their luck men who have turned their backs on their families and now live off the grid in an abandoned park, a stone’s throwaway from civilized society. There, they live a life of self-sufficiency, close to nature and scoff at those still slaving away at menial jobs in the dog eat dog world outside.
This fraternity is headed by Marshall who runs it like a boot camp and subjects the men to rigorous physical exertions. He is a caricature of a leader- prone to giving frequent speeches full of impassioned vitriol against consumerism and urban lifestyle. He is intent on making a new, subsistence based society and like all mavericks, he is a bit too overzealous and self indulgent for his own good. The kind of social system he runs echoes the totalitarianism of Orwell’s Animal Farm. In that too, what starts out as an idealistic form of managerial hierarchy spirals downward into anarchy in times of crisis. Same happens when after Sneed, a sinister member of the group, commits a malicious act of killing all their hens which perform a major part of their subsistence, it puts the fraternity’s unity in jeopardy. Their brotherhood falls into total disarray and their relationships turn sour and wary.
This book is primarily about how you cannot escape the consequences of your actions, no matter how far you run. As Adam soon realizes, his counter intuitive decision to escape his troubles by retreating into the wilderness provide him no respite. In fact, as things go from bad to worse in face of increasingly scant provisions, the events that transpire land him into deeper troubles. He soon discovers that he has jumped from the frying pan into the fire and that finding his way back to his earlier life is harder than it seems as the fraternity’s key motto is that once you have renounced your old way of life, there is no turning back. Due to a very lucky, albeit far fetching, turn of events, his daughter turns up in the park and she keeps coming back to his rescue at crucial moments in the story.
The narrative is taut and fast paced, aided by snappy writing. The plot is well constructed however it does require a huge suspension of disbelief specially in the latter part of the novel. The nonchalance with which the men of the group resort to murder and cannibalism in face of adversity was a bit implausible. It was an inevitable expedient but the build up to it felt insufficient. Adam is not a very sympathetic protagonist and it is hard to commiserate with his ordeal when he has left his family high and dry to deal with financial woes created by him. The non redemptive ending then serves as a kind of poetic justice.
The writer succeeds in creating a compelling story with the help of crisp narration. We all nurse private fantasies of leaving our stress laden, fast paced lives by returning back to nature. That is the ultimate idyllic fantasy. Wild Life deals with the warped realization of that fantasy where the protagonist literally head for the hills but as Murphy’s law goes, everything that could go wrong did go wrong.
I was provided a review copy of Wild Life courtesy Lucy Chamberlain and Legend Press.