The Magazine

Future Imperfect

Albert Brooks writes a novel. He should stick to film.

Aug 1, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 43 • By ZACK MUNSON
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Albert Brooks, 2011 Photo

Albert Brooks, 2011

Adriana Garcia / Unimediaimages Inc / Newscom

Albert Brooks is a comedian and filmmaker. He has now written a novel. The novel is called 2030, and it is about the future of America. This is how the novel is written. Like this. The way this review is written. In this manner of writing. 

If you are not familiar with novels, let me inform you that many novels contain events. I am generalizing here, but when writing a novel, somebody will make up some events in his mind, and then write them down. This is what Albert Brooks does. The events that he writes down are very important. An earthquake destroys Los Angeles. The president of the United States is Jewish. Some young people start a terrorist war against old people. The economy is bad; it is very, very bad. Also, the Jewish president sells the destroyed city of Los Angeles to the Chinese. Then the Constitution is amended so the Chinese man who rebuilt L.A. can be elected president. Also, before that happens, the Jewish president has an affair with a 70-year-old woman (his Treasury secretary) and his wife leaves him. And before that the president convinces the Treasury secretary to arrange the murder of his comatose mother. And there is a pill that cures weight loss. And there is no cancer.

This is approximately as much information about these events as Brooks provides in his novel. It is 384 pages long.

If I may continue generalizing: In addition to events, novels often have characters. 2030 is no exception. One character is a 20-year-old woman. Another an 80-year-old man. There are many others, with very different occupations and ages. One is the president. One is a scientist. Etc. 

They are all very different and thoroughly developed, according to the narrator. For example, the 70-year-old secretary of the Treasury who sleeps with the president, advises him to sell Los Angeles to the Chinese, and then kills his mother, was 

the smartest person in the room. Not flauntingly so. She just was. Prepared, full of facts and ideas, a world-class listener, and a problem solver like a computer.

Or take this example, if you will: The anti-senior terrorist, Max Leonard,

looked like a poster boy for being in shape. And a handsome face. Not movie star handsome, more like Olympic-ski-team handsome.

More important, Max “was not just a charismatic speaker, he knew when to listen.” It is interesting that the narrator has all this information. He must be a truly omniscient narrator, who sees things that are not actually in the book, like events that demonstrate these characteristics.

Anyhoo, with all these very different characters doing all sorts of important things, readers should have no problem not falling asleep while reading this book at two in the afternoon in their home on a Saturday. After all, this book is exciting, and lots of exciting things happen in it when you read it. Much of the story is set in Washington, D.C., and has some very serious political dialogue, such as this true-to-life exchange that takes place in a gay bar between two characters who are in the book for some reason:

“I’m one of the heads of AARP. .  .  .”

“That’s one powerful lobby. I’ve heard my boss bitch about it often, how you can’t get anything done unless AARP signs off.”

“Who’s your boss.”

“Hernandez.”

“Hernandez? At Justice?”

“That’s the one.”

“Wow. Big-time boss.”

 The book is also very smart and full of hilarious jokes, like this one that has to be explained after it is delivered:

“Do you think [being Treasury secretary] is something you might be interested in?”

“Yes. It’s something I’ve never thought about, but when you say it, it sounds like it was always my plan.”

“I’ve had that feeling, too” the President said. “I call it Déjà Beshert.”

“What is that?”

“I just made it up. Beshert is Hebrew for ‘meant to be.” And ‘déjà’ means .  .  . oh, you know what ‘déjà’ means.”

Getting serious again for a moment, this book has an important message about the future. That message is this: If American scientists cure cancer and help old people, we will live in a very bad (but exciting) world full of inexplicable scientific discoveries, and we will all talk as if we are characters in one of Albert Brooks’s less successful movies. This is called satire.

Zachary Munson is a writer in Washington.