The Mandibles: turning sex into money before and after an economic collapse

Continuing my posts about Lionel Shriver’s The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047

Shriver’s vision of United States society in the 2020s isn’t very different from what attorneys told us in Real World Divorce. Americans can get hold of assets through marriage and divorce, but much of the litigation involves people who were never married:

Technically Florence may have been a “single mother,” but single mothers in this country outnumbered married ones, and the very expression had fallen out of use.

Reference to diesel engines was strategic. The bulk of the Mandible money was amassed by Carter’s great-grandfather Elliot, a Midwestern industrialist. Douglas had added to the pile a bit, but he’d always lived high, and Mimi extracted a fair whack of his agency earnings in the divorce. The inheritance from Mandible Engine Corp. was protected from marital depredations by a trust.

[at the dinner table with econ professors, one of whom is a thinly disguised Piketty] “Why not?” Tom said. “You regard everyone else’s finances as your business. Fact is, you made a killing from sticking your nose into other people’s bank accounts.” “Hardly a killing,” Ryan said disdainfully. “Internet piracy was already approaching its zenith. For the handful of the upstanding, Amazon was discounting at 70 percent. As for what small royalties I did recoup, my ex-wife walked off with half. Calling me wealthy would be absurd.”

After the economy melts down, however, and an alimony or child-support judgment not indexed to inflation wouldn’t be worth much, turning a sexual relationship into cash has to be done without court involvement:

[late teenage daughter to her parents] “Mom, please! Nobody’s having dinner parties at all, much less catered ones, and most people wear the same clothes for a month!” “The only thing I’m too proud to do is what you’re doing.” “You’re too old for my vocation. And somebody’s got to bring some scratch into this house besides Florence. You want to see inflation work to our advantage for once? Because my prices are going up.” Savannah grabbed her coat and marched out the door.

After the government stabilizes the economy, laws are adjusted so that more sectors can be taxed. Here’s a conversation among three siblings, one of whom works for the “Scab” (formerly the IRS):

he appreciated that Savannah’s work as a “stimulation consultant” was now a legitimate career. While he might have expected to discern a clichéd coarsening in her features, her manner, or her spirit, in truth he detected no such thing. Accredited, registered, regulated, and—most crucially—taxed, Savannah parlayed a respectable expertise. She carried business cards. She didn’t hide behind any euphemistic “escort” nonsense. She was high end. She’d held her own against the robs—increasingly inventive, cheaper, and programmed to swallow at no extra cost. So she was doubtless very good at it. Still. Willing had a conservative side. You couldn’t legislate away that little shiver.

“This is new,” Bing said respectfully. “And very exciting. You’re planning a family soon?” He might have been talking to his schoolteacher, not his own brother. “Sooner the better,” Goog said. “Somebody’s gotta do it. You’re hardly up and at ’em with the ladies. And our sister’s a hole.” “You know I don’t like that word,” Savannah said. “I don’t like being called a scabbie, either,” Goog said. “I’ve manned up about it. You can’t honestly expect me to call you a stimulation consultant with a straight face.” “I have a degree,” she insisted quietly.

“A community college degree in a subject that comes naturally to any slit who can lie on her back. Listen, I know it’s asking a lot, but could I have a real glass?

The novel chronicles a change in female beauty standards. As the Chinese have become the world’s wealthiest people, Caucasian women undergo surgery to appear more like the Chinese.

More: Read The Mandibles.

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