Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Organ Grinders by Bill Fitzhugh

The Organ Grinders begins as hapless hero Paul Symon, 15, is humiliatingly ushered into adulthood by venture capitalist Jerry Landis.  Budding environmentalist Paul has prepared--and been invited to present in person!--a proposal suggesting alternate uses to a pristine wilderness area that Landis intends to develop.  After a long, hot bus ride and a two hour wait he is ushered in to his appointment, only to discover that it is but a photo op for the billionaire.  As he is leaving Landis's office Paul turns back for a moment, only to see his proposal being unceremoniously dumped in the trash as Landis laughs with the photographer about it.

Fast forward twenty-three years.  That experience, we quickly learn, informed the course of Paul's life, and he is now an environmental activist: he pushes petitions, stages pathetic protests, and attends rallies for every cause that comes his way. Paul really wants to change the world.  But more than that, he really, really, really wants to bring down Jerry Landis. 

And in his quest to do so Paul stumbles upon a truly egregious operation: a giant compound in the backwoods of Mississippi in which baboons are genetically engineered and selectively bred to produce giant specimens with organs big enough to transplant into humans.

It seems Jerry Landis is dying of an extremely rare disease which accelerates the aging process, and his plan is to have a stock of organs available for transplant as his own die.  Oh, and to make a serious profit selling organs as well.

The Organ Grinders is a satirical examination of the depths of human depravity, and what people will do to make a buck.  The action is antic and the characters wacky. We chase around the world a failed physician operating most successfully as a black market organ procurer.  We now and then cross paths with an ecoterrorist who, acting as jury and judge, sentences the guilty to gruesome and oh, so appropriate deaths.  And then there's the relentlessly cheerful Arty whose only talent is his ability to heal quickly and who is piece by piece selling off his body parts, and his friend Bonedigger who is only too happy to help him in his endeavor.

In this book, the good guys--with the exception of Paul--are pretty much as bad as the bad guys...but all are hilarious.  Bill Fitzhugh has a seriously skewed and grotesque sense of humor, and for this I salute him.

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