Thursday, April 12, 2018

Book 124: Flowertown



"Contamination and containment became the buzzwords, replaced quickly with quarantine and treatment, all to the musical backdrop of international media and outrage as the world demanded to know who was responsible for the poisoning of seven and a half square miles of America's heartland. There were Senate hearings and criminal investigations. Some people died and many more people suffered, but as weeks turned into months, most people outside of the Penn County spill zone went back to their jobs and their newscasts and their horror at the other atrocities available on every continent, on every channel."

Dates read: February 6-9, 2017

Rating: 6/10

When it comes to corporate scandals, there's little that it's hard to believe in this day and age. The Ford Pinto incident seems especially egregious, but even the recent enormous price hikes of life-saving medication like the Epi-Pen should remind us all that for companies, the value of human life often gets lost somewhere in the cost-benefit analysis matrix. For all that mega-corporations try to create brand loyalty and convince us that they do actually care, the bottom line is that the entire point of a publicly-traded company is to maximize value for stockholders. If there is little-to-no impact on their income reports, sure, some companies will do the right thing. But when it comes down to it, nearly all the time they will chose profit over any other factor.

In S.G. Redling's Flowertown, it's a company called Feno Chemical that finds itself mired in controversy after a disastrous pesticide spill in a small town in Iowa. The area is quarantined by the Army as large numbers of residents begin to die from exposure to the toxin, and Feno's pharmaceutical subsidiary develops a drug regime to try to treat them. For those who manage to survive, the drugs have a side effect: a sweet smell that emanates from those who've been dosed, leading to the nickname Flowertown. Even with the drugs, though, the chemicals are excreted from the body through any liquid and prove impossible to remove through filtering, so the people who remain have to stay to avoid infecting anyone else.

Ellie Caulley had just quit her job in advertising and was visiting her boyfriend's hometown before they were to take off on a trip overseas when the accident happened. Her boyfriend and his family died, but Ellie lived, and after seven years of being trapped in the confines of Flowertown, she only manages to keep a lid on her anger by being high all the time and sleeping with one of the Army officers assigned to keep the peace. She has only two friends: her sweet-natured roommate Rachel and the hyper-paranoid Bing, who keeps her in pot. When bombs start going off, though, she finds herself increasingly drawn into the local events: who's setting off the explosions? The local resistance movement? Feno Chemical trying to rid itself of a problem? The Army?

This is a mystery/thriller, but once events are set into motion, it's not too hard to figure out what the deal is (I'm not good at that kind of thing at all, but I still figured it out). The character development is surprisingly decent...Redling's Ellie is a prickly heroine who takes some warming up to but captures your sympathies. It's not hard to imagine how awful it would be to find yourself in the situation she does, how it would drive you almost crazy with loss and regret. With most of the books in this genre that I've read, creating characters doesn't seem like a big priority, but this book is less plot and more character driven, which worked for me. If you're looking for a thriller-style book based in people and personalities, this is a solid (albeit unspectacular) read.

Tell me, blog friends...have any stories about corporate greed come out that you had an especially hard time believing?

One year ago, I was reading: Big Little Lies (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Dead Wake

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