The story is set in Montreal in the year 2039. Like most major cities, the air is poisonous due to unregulated industrial expansion around the globe. The war on terror has been going on for nearly forty years, with no end in sight. A few years earlier a small nuclear bomb was detonated on Canadian soil by a fringe terrorist group. This led to the American government sending in military advisers to help combat the spread of terrorism. Soon a militaristic administration was established, which curtailed civil rights and clamped down on dissent. The main character is Allen Janus: everyone thinks he is a good husband and father, and a respected government official. But, despite having a good job and a wife and children who love him, he is dissatisfied. He finds little meaning or happiness in what he views as a monotonous life. He will do anything and lie to anyone to find some excitement to get him through his empty days. The physical decay of the world around him is reflected in his own decaying morality, and he leads a double life, gambling heavily and spending much of his time with a prostitute.
At home, he is faced with a relative who is well-loved and respected by everyone who knows him, creating feelings of resentment in Janus. In a moment of petty vindictiveness Janus informs on this man to the authoritarian government, getting him arrested and unintentionally turning the attention of the military police onto his whole family. He has to overcome his own weak character, as well as the secret life that he must keep hidden, in order to save everyone from the web of deceit that he created.
Targeted Age Group:: Adult
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve always been interested in why good people do bad things; whether it’s due to external forces that impact them, or because there’s something inside them that drives them to it. It occurred to me that the world we live in can affect how we behave. To show this I had to create a world where the politics, the environment, and society as a whole are decaying. I think that people who find themselves in such a world could lose whatever values they had. They wouldn’t become evil, but they would simply be more willing to hurt others, and lie or cheat, because in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t matter: the world’s going to hell anyway.
I was also interested in exploring characters that spend much of their time wearing masks: literally, because the air is toxic, and figuratively, because they don’t want anyone to see them for whom they really are.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
How’d you get these characters?
I’m not sure how to answer this, at least when it comes to the main character, Allen Janus. To create him I imagined myself doing everything I’ve been raised not to do. So, he isn’t me; but he is the Mr. Hyde to my Dr. Jekyll. As for the others, they’re a combination of traits and characteristics of people I’ve met in my life, but mostly each character exists to serve a specific function. I needed a very kind, older relative for Janus to resent and to inform on. I needed a trusting wife for Janus to cheat on. I needed a corrupt policeman to investigate him, and so on. I’ve tried to give these characters more than two dimensions, but they all have very clearly-defined roles in the story.
October 17, 2039:
When the time came Richard knew there would be a high probability of serious injury, not only to the Cons, but also to innocent by-standers. He’d told them he didn’t want anybody to get hurt, and that, despite his big talk a few days earlier, he believed they should remain a non-violent movement.
But Suzanne had spoken to him quietly the night before in her kitchen. She held his hand and gazed into his eyes as she told him how proud she’d been when he’d spoken up at the last meeting. She was glad he understood that some pain was necessary, or else people wouldn’t react.
“The sheep,” she said, “will keep walking down the chute unless something scares them. Only then will they open their eyes and see where they’re headed.”
Richard didn’t respond. He knew that even scared sheep couldn’t stop themselves from going to slaughter, but he didn’t want to contradict her. She saw his hesitation and asked him if he was afraid, with a look that told him she would only accept one answer.
“Of course not,” he lied, looking down to avoid her searching gaze. “I just want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”
“What else can we do, Richard? The public is so apathetic they can’t be shaken out of their torpor with clever slogans and colourful signs.”
She brushed the hair out of his eyes and bent her head to look into his face.
“Without some pain they’ll never see that the administration is run by militarists and elite industrialists who are happily enriching themselves while families are poisoned by the very air and water around them.”
Now Richard stood inside the library’s entrance, remembering her words, and smelling her perfume like she was still holding his hand. He watched as his fellow students trudged in and out of the building. Most carried small waist-packs containing their study discs and some nutri-snacks under their coats. He worried that somebody would wonder why his pack looked bulkier than everybody else’s. Surely nobody would expect him to be carrying an actual textbook around. But nobody gave him a second look.
In the street, in front of the RCMP station that was next door to the library, several patrol cars were parked. He watched as two Cons, their air-masks hanging from their belts, chatted amiably while they leaned against their cruisers. They were happy about something: one of them laughing out loud while squeezing his colleague’s arm, before they both strolled into the station.
Richard wanted to imagine that they were laughing about an arrest they’d made, maybe some innocent and harmless old man, but he couldn’t. It was easier to hate a faceless administration than it was two buddies sharing a laugh. Whatever passion he’d felt in Suzanne’s apartment had dissipated. This would have been easier for him if his heart was still full of anger, but there was no turning back.
He looked at the antique digital clock on the library wall: it was 9:45 AM. They’d told him to plant the bomb at 10 o’clock, five minutes before the planned detonation, to minimize the risk of discovery. But his heart was beating too rapidly, and he could feel the sweat pouring down his face. He was sure he’d faint if he had to wait much longer.
Nobody’s going to find it anyway, he told himself, as he placed the waist-pack behind a bench near an exterior wall.
The detonation was set to expand outward, toward the police detachment, and not inward where the students were crowded into a tight space. Still, the chances of some of them being seriously injured, maybe even dying, were fairly high.
He repeated to himself some of Suzanne’s arguments that he’d memorized as a mantra: All shortages are tools of the administration; hungry people pay more for food; there’s always someone else to blame.
He took a deep breath and told himself that it had to be done. After this act of defiance the administration would have to take them seriously. And Suzanne would know that he was a real man.
He just hoped that nobody he knew would get hurt.
About the Author:
I spent 24 years as a defense lawyer in Montreal, where I live with my wife and two sons. But even as I was practicing law I had the urge to write, at first short stories, and then eventually full-length books. My first novel was The Guilty, a story based in large part on some of the experiences I had as an attorney. In my new book, Face/Mask, I speculate about the near-future, where the world is in physical and moral decay. I’m very interested in writing about people with major character flaws, who do things they regret and then have to find a way to get out of the mess they made. In other words, normal people.
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