The gift of innocence?
The Innocence Treatment by Ari Goelman is a psychological thriller set in 2031 America.
Looking for a smart, tense, psychological thriller for your teenage reader? Ari Goelman’s The Innocence Treatment (Roaring Brook Press, 2017) would fit the bill. Though, if you’re unsure, you can ask the author himself. Goelman will be doing a reading and book-signing on Nov. 21, 7 p.m., at Book Warehouse on Main Street. He will also be at the Cherie Smith JCC Jewish Book Festival on Nov. 27, 6:30 p.m.
Goelman is originally from Philadelphia. “I moved around the U.S. a bunch before ending up in Vancouver, living mostly in New York City and Boston before I came here,” he told the Independent. “I came to Vancouver gradually, a few months here (1995), a few years here (1997-1999), until finally settling here in 2006. I wanted to make sure I waited until I definitely couldn’t afford to buy a house in the city. As for why, I had family in Vancouver, so, when I was looking into grad schools, I knew it was a fun (and back then) affordable place to live.”
The Innocence Treatment is Goelman’s second book. His first, The Path of Names, for middle-grade readers, received many literary awards and nominations. He also writes short stories and is on the faculty of Kwantlen Polytechnic University. His undergraduate degree in economics is from New College of Florida, he has an MSc in planning from University of British Columbia and a PhD in urban studies from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“One of the first bits of paid writing I ever did was for this very newspaper, when I first came to Vancouver in 1995,” he shared. “True story. A once-off article about Kidsbooks.” True, indeed. The story, “No kidding around,” was published on Sept. 29, 1995, in the Jewish Western Bulletin, the Independent’s predecessor. But back to the present … well, the future.
Goelman sets The Innocence Treatment in his home country in 2031, when “the United States was still enjoying the lull between the first and second uprisings. A drought was drying out the last of the great western forests, but it would be another two years before the massive wildfires that left millions homeless and sparked the second uprising.”
His main character, 16-year-old Lauren was once so innocent that she had to be watched at all times so that no harm would come to her. At first, she is “super-excited” to be undergoing a medical procedure to “fix” her, because then she “won’t be stupid anymore.” But, afterward, she discovers that understanding people and their motivations doesn’t necessarily lead to happier or better outcomes and, more than once, the “new” Lauren must use her ample self-defence skills and literally kick some butts.
“Lauren’s kick-ass qualities naturally emerged from her character,” said Goelman about his strong female lead. “I started with the idea of a character who had spent her whole life very naive and very protected, and I imagined she’d be furious once the veil was lifted and she started to experience the world as it really was. I figured, as well, that after spending her whole life being unavoidably passive, she would be thrilled by her new ability to act and would make the most of those abilities.”
The problem becomes one of self-restraint, which Goelman explicitly explores in a chapter involving an experiment while Lauren is in custody, which I personally found somewhat out of place, or forced.
“What I was trying to do in that chapter was to show Lauren’s inability to control herself, even when she genuinely wants to, both for her own self-interest and to spite Dr. Corbin,” explained Goelman. “That’s what Corbin is really measuring – not Lauren’s fighting ability, but her paranoia and anger. It was a fun chapter to write, because it’s from Lauren’s perspective and she’s aware of the challenge that she’s failing, even as she fails it.”
Overall, The Innocence Treatment is a fun book to read. To use an apt cliché, it is a page-turner. It is also a little scary in its seeming prescience, having been written before the election of Donald Trump and the apparent descent of America.
“Yes, The Innocence Treatment does feel a bit unfortunately prescient at this point,” agreed Goelman. “I’m glad it was published this year, or it would have started seeming less like a near future world and more like the past.”
As for what he thinks the future might hold in reality, Goelman said, “I think the most we can hope for is to slow climate change and deal with its consequences in a fair way that limits human suffering. I’m not real optimistic about our near-term prospects, as I think that nothing good will happen as long as so much of the world’s resources are controlled by so few individuals and families.
“The world of The Innocence Treatment is very much formed by the combination of climate change disaster and the unequal distribution of wealth. And,” said Goelman, “while the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. is the latest and maybe the best example of how these two trends come together, we don’t have to look so far from home. The B.C. Liberals ran this province for 16 years, defunding public education and subsidizing the fossil fuel industry, at the behest of their very wealthy (and largely unregulated) donors.
“On the upside,” he said, “it’s not like the solutions are so complicated – if we get money out of politics, I believe humans can be really brilliant at solving problems collaboratively. So, while I’m pretty pessimistic about any major improvement in the near term, I think it’s very possible to change things for the better – it just requires the political will. There’s a part of The Innocence Treatment where Lauren’s older sister describes the family’s life right after the ‘Emergency’ era permanently reshaped the U.S., and one of the things she remembers is it wasn’t so bad being without power, as people came together to help each other. I think there’s a lot of truth to that. Given the chance, humans are really good at working together. They’re also really good at struggling for dominance and to monopolize scarce resources. It’s anyone’s guess which direction we’re going.”
For the full schedule of the Jewish Book Festival, which runs Nov. 25-30, visit jewishbookfestival.ca.