Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Book Review: Fort Privilege

Book Review: 'Fort Privilege' by Kit Reed

1 / 5 Stars

‘Fort Privilege’ first was published in hardback by Doubleday in 1985; the Ace Books paperback edition (186 pp) was released in December, 1986, with cover art by Alan Gutierrez.

If after reading my review you remain adamant about getting a copy of ‘Fort’, make sure it’s the hardbound version. In a demonstration of their cheapness during the 80s, Ace Books didn’t bother to reformat the typesetting of the hardbound novel to accommodate the dimensions of a mass-market paperback. Instead, they simply reduced the size of the hardbound typesetting to fit the paperback page, which means the font is at ~ 6 pt and barely legible.

And the Ace Books cover is utterly misleading, too: ‘Fort Privilege’ is NOT an action-adventure novel in the style of Escape from New York. In reality, it is a dull novel that explores Group Psychology, and Personal Relationships, When Under Duress.

‘Fort’ certainly has an interesting premise: in the near future (i.e., the 1990s) the U.S. is in the grip of a social and economic crisis. Most of the law-abiding citizens of Manhattan have fled, or are fleeing, the city, which has fallen into anarchy and is ruled by legions of thugs and criminals.

At the Parkhurst, a luxury apartment building modeled on the real-life Dakota, owner Abel Parkhurst refuses to acknowledge the loss of the city, and instead is focused on fiddling while Rome burns. A centennial gala is being held at the Parkhurst, and all but a handful of its tenants have elected to defy the lawlessness unfolding outside the building’s front gates in favor of participating in the lavish celebration. Abel Parkhurst is confident that the building resources and police staff are more than capable of enduring a siege of some length before 'they' (the state or federal authorities) restore order. 

'Fort Privilege' relates the happenings at the Parkhurst as the celebration, and its aftermath, come to terms with the alarming events unfolding in the remnants of New York City.

As I stated earlier, ‘Fort Privilege’ is by no means an action novel. Violent encounters between the Parkhurst residents and the homicidal mobs running amok in the streets are related in a brief, and almost perfunctory, manner; they mainly serve as a background canvas upon which author Reed can elaborate on human relationships under times of extraordinary stress.

The narrative focuses on a set of characters, all of whom are literally or metaphorically wounded in some manner. There is Bart Cavanaugh, who struggles with the physical and emotional symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder; Regan Millane, a doctor recovering from alcoholism induced by a failed love affair; Ted Beckett, an egomaniac who uses the crisis to insinuate himself as the military leader of the building’s defense; and Sarah Parkhurst, Abel’s daughter, who, psychologically tormented by her privileged upbringing, deals with the crisis by indulging in episodes of self-loathing (aided by access to plentiful supplies of drugs and alcohol).

I found reading ‘Fort’ to be a chore. Any momentum supplied by the crisis aspects of the main storyline rapidly dissipates in the face of too many wordy, overwritten passages:

The divorced woman who went her rounds in the gray old hospital in the real world seemed remote; if she had drunk too much because she had to just make it through the day, it was for reasons she couldn’t even remember now. Everything had changed, she thought. She had changed. No matter what happened after this she was a different person. Wild as this was she realized now that she’d rather be here, under siege and in real danger, then back in her old life. It crossed her mind that they might be in siege here forever, and she welcomed the idea. So long as they were, then certain things would remain suspended. She was so lulled by this that she watched almost dreamily as Ted Beckett raised both hands and called for a voice vote…….

I won’t reveal any spoilers about the ultimate fate of the Parkhurst and its inhabitants, save to say that plodding through the novel until its climax eventually arrived was not an easy thing to do. ‘Fort Privilege’ is best avoided.

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