Please Kill Me Now
Ivy Turow, Saying Goodbye to Verena
Acorn, 224pp, £8.99, ISBN 9781908318947
reviewed by Aaron Sams
When the world plunged into economic crisis in 2008, the reactions played out like a television re-run. The left blamed the banks, the right blamed the government, the media blamed anyone, and the majority of the public just sat confused by the whole ordeal. What had gone wrong? It seemed that there was no shortage of explanations. An entire genre of books appears to have of emerged from the dust of the economic chaos, with titles such as The Devil’s Casino and Slapped by the Invisible Hand. These books give detailed accounts of a system decaying from the inside out, but what about criticisms of the system while it is functioning correctly? What about people who simply cannot force themselves to participate in a system which is, for the better part, morally barren? It is this problematic that characterises Turow’s novel. It isn’t about the system failing, it is about the system working. Stella’s personality is embedded with morals and ethics, neither of which she can find within her daily experiences. It isn’t that she is a victim of poverty or social stratification, rather she is a victim of her own personality, one which cannot fit, or change, in order to succeed in the corporate world.
Tracing and relating our current western economic system (and its failings) through a myriad of thinkers and theories, from biological explanations to Foucauldian analysis, Turow manages to give Stella enough intellectual rigour to make a justification of her suicide in terms of a rationality that exceeds unhinged emotion. Stella has, like many others in the non-fictional universe, been damaged by corporate offices, personal debt and sexist discrimination, but this analysis isn’t about the nameless and faceless statistics such issues produce. Rather, it is an intimate portrayal of their consequences for an individual, Stella. There are certain points where the novel reads less like a fictional narrative and more like a textbook, but this is always interjected with a personal story, or a question from Verena; Turow has a talent for explaining complex ideas in a way which the reader won’t need a degree in sociology to understand.
Although this novel takes a critical stance towards the capitalist system, it is far from calling for its overthrow. Instead, it calls for a change in ethics and values: Stella is in a sense quite morally conservative as she values respect, decency and the notion that hard work should pay off. As austerity seeps into much of the western world, the dog-eat-dog competition of capitalism in this age becomes fiercer, and as jobs become scarcer, the ethics of a fair society with a respectful attitude towards our co-workers becomes desolate. The morals and cooperation we learnt in our schooling also become fruitless as we discover nice guys really do finish last. A bleak picture maybe, but it is the one that Turow invites us to acknowledge and, through the rational and persuasive arguments Stella puts forward, it becomes a picture that is hard to ignore.