BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The story of a near-future Repo Man who takes back artificial organs from those who can no longer pay for them.
PROS: An interesting premise and setting; expert storytelling; cool tech; seems like the writer is having as much fun as the reader.
CONS: I cannot think of any way this story could have been made better.
BOTTOM LINE: This one was a lot of fun. Highly recommended.
Eric Garcia’s The Repossession Mambo is built on an interesting premise: while advanced technology has given rise to indestructible human artificial organs (“artiforgs”), they are lumbered by the cold, harsh reality of economy. More specifically, artiforgs are enormously expensive and must be financed through the so-called Credit Union. When the choice is your money or your life, a thirty percent interest rate on a huge principle seems like a godsend – that is until you miss a few payments. That’s when the Credit Union sends a Bio-Repo men out to reclaim the merchandise. Typically, this means tracking you down, cutting you open, and removing the organ in question. If the surgery suddenly leaves you dead, well, that’s your problem. Read the fine print.
The Repossession Mambo is told through the eyes of a nameless Bio-Repo man who no longer works for the Credit Union. He is, in fact, hiding. As he types out his story on an old, outdated typewriter, readers come to learn his story. Through alternate, non-sequential snapshots of his past, we learn about his early life in the military, his 5 ex-wives, his estranged son, how and why he became a Bio-Repo man (a job nobody ever chooses willingly) and his relationship with Jake, a fellow soldier who he followed into the repossession business.
The author’s narrative choices make the story feel like you’re spying on discrete, random points in the narrator’s life. Slowly, as his life story begins to emerge, the pieces are gradually filled in until the puzzle is complete. This storytelling decision helped make it incredibly intriguing. It didn’t matter that, initially, not much was actually happening in the present-day story line, because the flashback passages were more than enough to hold up interest. (In later parts of the book, there was lots of stuff happening.) Some of it was the cool future tech — like artificial organs with the music player option, or the high-tech tools used by the best Bio-Repo men, like the scanners used to ferret out defaulted organs – but most of it was the way the author tells the story. Garcia’s prose shows the making of a stylist, someone whose verbiage is as entertaining as the story itself. For example, at one point we learn that the narrator named his black market artiforg scanner after one of his ex-wives because “it could do any number of people at once”.
Garcia uses the human heart as a metaphor for the characters’ humanity. In the case of our Bio-Repo man narrator (who remains nameless for the entire length of the book – you can see where this is going) his artificial heart symbolizes his detachment from the rest of the people that populate this wonderfully dark, consumerist future. Logically, it makes sense; only through such detachment can you continue to excel at the act of cutting people up and surgically removing their innards. That’s how you ignore the pleas of the downtrodden as you prepare to cut them open. Our narrator (livers a specialty) is great at what he does. His experience makes him a Level Five Bio-Repo man with a reputation for success. Some of it was learned on the job, some of it was learned on the battlefield of a war in Africa. And all of it is useful in his role as a runner.
It’s while he is hiding in an abandoned hotel out that the narrator meets another runner named Bonnie. Biologically speaking, Bonnie is almost the antithesis of the narrator. The vast majority of her body is artificial and it’s the heart that remains human. Various circumstances led to Bonnie’s condition, enough to make her a sympathetic human character, but the Credit Union doesn’t care. All they want is their money, so Bonnie goes on the run to save her life. She’s learned a few tricks while in hiding; things our narrator leverages when they join forces. But are their combined efforts enough to avoid the tenacity of the Bio-Repo men out to get them?
I highly recommend that you read The Repossession Mambo and find out.
Note: In an illuminating Author’s Note appendix (no pun intended) Garcia talks about the genesis of this short story that led to this novel and will find its way to the big screen in 2009 in a film starring Jude Law and Forrest Whitaker.