(Originally published in May 16th issue of Cincinatti’s City Beat weekly newspaper.)
Albert Brooks, one of the most creative and influential comedians and filmmakers of the last 40 years, has turned his attention to writing fiction with his suddenly serious yet wholly entertaining first novel, 2030: The Real Story of What Happens To America. In his futuristic tale, Brooks envisions a dystopian America in which we’re living longer but not necessarily happier lives. The novel conjures a crippled United States brought to its knees by fiscal insolvency and a killer earthquake in Los Angeles. Ably avoiding the clichés of most apocalyptic fiction, Brooks’ 2030 is a thoughtful forecast of the not-too-distant future that raises key questions and offers promising possibilities.
Brooks is at his best in 2030 when describing lifelike robots, wristwatches with video screens and fast electric cars. A cure is finally found for cancer and people are living much longer lives. But dissension grows among younger people left to foot the bill, in the form of violence and efforts to eliminate “the olds.” When an earthquake levels Los Angeles, America, already deep in debt, is forced to let China rebuild, in exchange for (gasp) shared ownership of L.A.
Although Brooks fails to create many truly three-dimensional characters, he compensates with a slow-building tension in 2030 that reaches a climax when hijackers threaten to blow up a ship carrying 2,500 seniors. Fortunately, disaster is averted at sea and, back at home, L.A. is transformed into a majestic city; a model for all others in need of repair. At last, America begins to mend.
Brooks ties up all of his loose ends and wraps up his novel with an ending that is certain to surprise readers. In 2030, Brooks leaves us on a note of optimism and hope, something we can all desperately use. Grade: B