Published by Bloomsbury Publishing on January 3, 2017
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I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Life in a Fishbowl by Len Vlahos is a black-humor satire that tells a dying man’s story through ten different perspectives. Jared Stone has a brain tumor, a malignant glioblastoma multiforme that cannot be cured. Faced with the gravity of his situation, he creates an eBay page auctioning off his life to the highest bidder. He needs to make his family financially comfortable before he dies, and this is the only way. The winner? An unscrupulous television producer who wants to televise Jared’s death in an unprecedented reality television show. Through the perspectives of Jared, his wife, his two teen daughters, Jackie and Megan, a nun, a demented billionaire, an unscrupulous television producer, a World of Warcraft gamer, a Russian teenager, and Jared’s own tumor, Vlahos crafts a poignant story about media culture and the death with dignity movement.
I don’t read very many novels with omniscient narrators, so it took me a minute to really get into Life in a Fishbowl. But when I did? I fell hard for this book. The black humor also took a minute to adjust to. For the first 50-100 pages, I vacillated between amusement and horror. I think that’s a common theme if you read some of the early reviews of the book. But then, all at once, I realized that Vlahos created a moving treatise on the death with dignity movement.
Jared signs his life away to a TV producer who wants to keep his shell of a body alive for as long as possible. His last moments of coherence come in the form of a plea to his wife to end his suffering. But before then, Vlahos deftly explores both sides of this debate in the varied perspectives in the book. Sister Benedict Joan is vehemently against death with dignity. Others are clearly for it for their own reasons. Jared himself drafted legislation that would make it legal in Oregon. If anything, this book will help more teens and adults talk about death with unflinching honesty, that way their wishes are clear, and Vlahos opens the door for these much-needed conversations.
The blurb for this book is misleading, making it seem like Jackie is the main character. She’s not. She gets more narrative time than some of the other characters, but she’s not the main character. And this book isn’t just about reality TV (which doesn’t happen until 1/3 of the way through). I can imagine that it’s hard to blurb this book in a way that makes it sound appealing to teens, so I can see why they chose that focus, but it is misleading.
I have two favorite things about Life in a Fishbowl:
The first is Glio’s (the brain tumor) POV. It’s a particularly smart way for Vlahos to give us backstory about Jared and his family without it coming across as backstory.
The second is the way Vlahos balances the “evils of reality TV” message with the positive message about online communities/fandoms. People Jackie don’t even know come out of the woodwork (via World of Warcraft) to help save her family when it’s clear they’re prisoners in their own home.
Give this black-humor satire a chance because it’s a beautiful, moving, heartbreaking, ruin-you-for-the-rest-of-the-day book that examines some hard subjects in an unconventional way. Great for teens 14+ and adults.
© 2017 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.