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“We are tiny figures. Pointing at wonders, provided for scale, of lives of our own, surveying the landscape that has engulfed us all,” Adam Costello. –Landscape with Invisible Hand
Landscape with Invisible Hand
by M.T. Anderson
After the first vuvv landed, everything was supposed to change for the better. With the promises of health and prosperity, humans greeted the technologically advanced alien race with open arms. But when Adam’s parents’ jobs are replaced by alien technology, Adam realizes that only the wealthy class is able to thrive. Earthlings start to go hungry as food, water, and medicine become scarce. Earth becomes a wasteland of diseases where the poor suffer, while the rich and vuvv in the skies live a life of luxury.
With no money and barely enough food to survive, Adam Costello—an 18-year-old American artist—must get creative. Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, sign up for a 1950s style dating program where they record “traditional human love” for the vuvv to watch. The vuvv watch as Adam and Chloe fall in love and act out scenes, including dates. But as the money rolls in for their pay-per-view program and their subscriber count goes up, Adam and Chloe start to hate each other. After they break up, the vuvv threaten to sue them for promoting their “fake love.”
With the threat of a lawsuit and food running low, there is only one way out—a global youth art competition. After Adam’s art teacher, Mr. Dave Reilly, entered some of Adam’s artwork in a “traditional human” art contest, Adam makes the first cut and is invited to a huge party at a galleria where the winner will be announced. The winner will have everlasting fame and fortune with their art pieces sold throughout the universe. Will Adam win and move into the clouds or will he be stuck living on the desolate Earth forever?
In Landscape with Invisible Hand, Anderson draws many parallels between Adam’s art contest, the vuvv’s colonization, and social media. He asks the question: how much should we shape ourselves to fit the criteria of others? Adam constantly has to decide whether to become the type of human the vuvv want or stay true to himself. In the beginning, Adam desperately tries to fit the vuvv’s mold in order to survive. But as Adam’s health starts to deteriorate, Adam throws away this mold and submits “nontraditional” art to the vuvv contest, teaching readers to be themselves no matter what.
Even though at its core the book has a positive, self-empowering message, Landscape with Invisible Hand is intended for older readers. Reader’s hearts will be torn apart as nothing goes right for Adam’s family—food runs out, they can’t find a job, and Adam’s medical problems worsen. The story is extremely dark, saddening, and has no happy ending. The novel also makes many parallels with African colonization and enslavement with Adam’s situation. This motif will make it hard for some readers to understand the story’s true meaning. Along with the plot and themes, the novel’s sexual content and language is also intended for older readers. The character’s frequently “neck” and kiss, and Adam constantly cusses throughout his narration. Landscape with Invisible Hand contains a powerful message that can be used to start a conversation about our world’s self-identity crisis and social media.
- The book begins with a drive-in movie theater showing of a 1950s alien film where a girlfriend and boyfriend are making out. Then, an alien approaches from the nearby woods. “Boyfriends and girlfriends squeal and lean into each other. Couples grin. They’re parked in fifties tin cars and ‘necking.’ The movie screen above the field of parked cars is reflected in their windshields.”
- “‘Gee, Chloe,’ I say, and turn to kiss her cheek.” Adam and his girlfriend Chloe take part in a 1950s dating job, where they record themselves in love and upload it for vuvv enjoyment. Usually, it involves slight kissing and flirtatious conversation.
- After doing the 1950s dating job and filming their love for so long, Adam and Chloe fall out of love. Adam recalls how “once when we were pretending to kiss – our mouths stuck together uncomfortably like fried onion rings – just pressed against each other, not moving, trying not to breathe each other’s breath – suddenly a word popped into my head: intimacy.”
- Chloe brings another boyfriend, Buddy Gui, to the house where she and Adam’s family live. Adam thinks to himself, “Once they disappear, I hear the ruckus from some buddy-cop holo show they’re watching, or else they’ve just turned the volume up real loud to hide the sound of them fucking.”
- After trying to apply for a soup kitchen job, Adam’s mother starts talking to a guy in a suit. Suddenly, he throws her against the wall and says, “You’re not applying for that soup job. It’s mine. I have your fucking address now, and if I see you working there next week, I’m going to come over and burn your motherfucking house down.” After watching it all unfold, Adam says that he “should’ve punched him.”
- Adam and his mother have nothing to do, “So we watch the news, and there has been a race riot in Central Falls. Security cameras show a bunch of white guys rampaging through a bodega, lifting up the Coke fridge, and tipping it through the window, attacking the owner and his family with a baseball bat, screaming shit like go back to Mexico and leave us our jobs. They’re stomping on the chips in the snack food aisle and showing their teeth like an animal pack. Some white woman standing outside on the street in a terry-cloth hoodie tells a reporter that if it weren’t for those goddamn people, the censored censored censored illegals, everybody wouldn’t be eating the grass in our yards on all fours.”
Drugs and Alcohol
- Profanity is used in the extreme. Almost all the characters cuss, and profanity is on almost every page. Profanity includes: douche, shit, fuck, goddam, ass, idiot, Jesus, hell, jerk, and piss.
- Adam recounts the vuvv landing and says, “A few years ago, some guy in cargo pants was caught tipping over one of the monument’s pillars. At first, everyone thought he was doing it as an anti-vuvv protest. Later, it turned out he was just a douche.”
- Adam hates how his house looks. “The shingles look okay, but all the brown panels look like hell. The paint is cracked and flaking off in long strips. What kind of dipshit would design a house half shingled and half painted?”
- Adam’s mother asks if he includes “the piles of bullshit you heap in every direction” in his paintings.
- Adam calls his dad a “fucker” and a “fucking coward” for running off and abandoning them. Adam’s mother calls Adam’s dad a “jackass” after he suggests they try to rent out part of the house.
- Someone sold a million-dollar estate for a “goddamn dollar” to the vuvv.
- Adam suffers from Merrick’s Disease, which causes him to have the “shits” constantly.
- Adam lied to a group of rich kids, claiming he damaged his Achilles tendon “when I was kneeing a complete idiot in the gut.”
- Adam’s sister, Nattie, makes a pun. Her mother lets out a long sigh and responds, “Jesus, Nattie. I don’t know what to say to that.”
- Adam hates school because “The school day seems to stretch forever, especially because my last couple of classes are taught by vuvv tech, which just shows us stuff floating in the air and then tells us off when we act like jerks.”
- Adam watches Thallium Dogs II: Assassin’s Blade where the main character “opens up a noisy barrel of whoop-ass.”
- In celebration of getting to the art competition shuttle, Adam urinates. “While I’m still in the shadows, I piss a smiley face into the snow.”
- The winner of the art competition makes a crude, wooden chainsaw construction of the Virgin Mary and a combination of baby Jesus and the Hindu god Ganesh. “My painting faded. In its place is the 3-D image of rough-hewn Virgin Mary and Child, except the Virgin Mary is swaddling on her lap (silent night, holy night) an infant with the head of an elephant.”
by Matthew Perkey