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Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

candor pam bachorz1 Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

Blurb: In the model community of Candor, Florida, every teen wants to be like Oscar Banks. The son of the towns founder, Oscar earns straight As, is student-body president, and is in demand for every club and cause.
But Oscar has a secret. He knows that parents bring their teens to Candor to make them respectful, compliant'perfect'through subliminal Messages that carefully correct and control their behavior. And Oscar s built a business sabotaging his fathers scheme with Messages of his own, getting his clients out before theyre turned. After all, who would ever suspect the perfect Oscar Banks?
Then he meets Nia, the girl he cant stand to see changed. Saving Nia means losing her forever. Keeping her in Candor, Oscar risks exposure . . . and more

Given the burgeoning business of McMansion-filled housing estates throughout the West, Candor sounds like the sort of idyllic place in which the aspirational middle-class would desire more than anything to live: all manicured lawns, matched mail boxes, and twin-sets, and not a pink lawn flamingo in sight, the very notion of it is sure to result in a dreamy sigh or a wistful gaze.'These sorts of manufactured estates, after all, are a threat-free, safe place. Any worries can be left back at the wrought iron gates: residents can rest assured that any potential issues have been negotiated and dealt with before they even have a chance to arise. The body corporate or community council will act quickly to dispel threats such as overlarge garden ornaments or inappropriate fences, and offer an efficient means through risk can be transferred. In addition, such estates also select for a certain set of people, allowing those so inclined to live in a social bubble of the well-off and the inoffensive (unless, of course, you find polo shirts and dazzling dental work offensive).

At a stretch, some might call this sort of gently-does-it lifestyle utopian. However, before we start bandying about the U word, perhaps we should take a moment to consider the meaning of this particular lexical, which is 'no place'. Candor, it seems, is indeed such an entity, for its outward patina belies the desultory nature of its soul. This family-oriented, clean-cut estate is, it turns out, as chillingly and ironically named as Orwell's Ministry of Love'and bears not a few other resemblances to Orwell's claustrophobic, panopticon-esque 1984 world.

The suburban blandness of Candor is the brainchild of main character Oscar Bankss father, who sets its construction into motion following the sudden and tragic death of Oscar's brother. Soon, what used to be a stagnant swamp is transformed into something flawless and pristine, and Oscar's father hopes that his family, too, will undergo a similar cleansing as they try to forget the past. But Oscar's mother struggles to cope in this new environment, despite her husband's extreme efforts to assist her. Efforts so extreme, it turns out, that his exhortations about the way a life should be lived are transmitted not only via conversation, via gestures, via actions, but also by means that are more subtle, and infinitely more chilling. It's a nod to 1984, and even to A Clockwork Orange: the use of subliminal messages in order to help people live the lives they want to lead, or at least the lives they should want to leave. Oscar's mother leaves. They all leave, eventually, says Oscars father.

Except, it seems, for Oscar. Years pass in which Candor becomes ever more oppressive and controlling, and its residents, brainwashed by the now ubiquitous subliminal Messages piped through every part of the estate, veer ever more towards Stepford Wives-esque perfection. Soon, Candor has become a boom-town filled with attractive middle-aged couples and children cloned from the Bradys. The Messages cajole them into living lives of abstention and moderation'the only concession to excessiveness is the hefty price tag associated with living in the estate. While the adult residents of Candor are informed of the Messages being broadcast to their children'a notion that, eerily, does not seem to even register on their ethical radar'the children are entirely unaware that they are being carefully moulded. The exception, of course, is Oscar, who has developed his own Messages to help him maintain some sense of individuality, allowing him to strike an uneasy balance between the required perfection of Candor and his naturally rebellious self.

Oscar conforms when it's necessary, projecting the appropriate Candor exterior when in plain sight, but when left alone, he has his own secretive hobbies, one of which involves helping disenfranchised Candor youths escape. There is no altruism to Oscar's activities, though: they're essentially mercantile, with the give and take based purely on his own needs. Until a new girl, Nia, arrives in town. Nia is the un-Candor: rebellious and mouthy, with a love of art and a penchant for doing exactly the opposite of what her parents desire. Oscar knows, though, that it will only be a matter of time before the Messages transform her entirely, and he makes a desperate effort to stop this from happening. However, the mind is a fragile thing, and Oscar's efforts to mitigate the power of the Messages using messages of his own backfire with disastrous results.

Candor offers an intriguing approach to dystopian fiction, taking place as it does in the present day. However, it leans heavily on a significant body of earlier dystopian work with which it's impossible not to make comparisons. Brave New World, 1984, A Clockwork Orange: each of these is fiercely present in the narrative. The novel follows that of 1984 intensely closely in places, (such as the brainwashing room where teens are sent to be reprogrammed, Oscar's father's Big Brother-like presence, and the chilling final scene) but unfortunately lacks the emotional power that makes 1984 so compelling. Its a shame, because Candor could have been an interesting young adult reversioning of these seminal dystopian novels. That Candor lacks this strength'is in part'because of the weakness in terms of characterisation: most of the characters, and in particular the adults, are only hastily sketched, and even Oscar himself never feels entirely plausible. The internal conflict he is supposed to be suffering never quite rings true, and he comes across as a largely unlikeable, amoral character. In part because of this, his relationship with Nia feels constructed rather than in any sense genuine, and its difficult to empathise with them. Oscars misogynistic bent, too, makes it difficult to picture him falling for a girl, even if it his professed love for Nia is based purely on the fact that she represents an escape from Candor and from the oppressive omnipresence of Oscars father. The novel also suffers somewhat from a limp and choppy writing style that fails to carry much emotion, or to paint in any complexity the true horror of a place such as Candor, and this weakens the impact of what has the potential to be a very powerful novel.

Still, for all its flaws, Candor is an interesting modern-day take on the dystopias of old, and may make a good introduction to the famous texts that epitomise this genre. Unlike the older texts, it touches on certain issues that are relevant to teenagers in their parents in an age of protectionism and increased accountability: the acute desire for children to confirm to a particular societally acceptable mould in order to obtain particular levels of social and cultural capital required for participation in the current knowledge society. That the parents are so unquestioning in letting another manipulate their children in such a way is terrifying, but speaks to the ubiquitous acceptance of the mandated power of those in charge.

200px 3 stars.svg 1 Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

See also our list of young adult dystopian fiction.

candor pam bachorz1 Review: Candor by Pam Bachorz

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