Social Concerns / Themes

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 436

Built in the pit of an abandoned phosphate mine, the ironically named Garden Hills is the setting for a caustic contemporary reworking of the basic Judeo-Christian story of humanity. The mine and village, created by never-seen entrepreneur Jack O'Boylan, testify to the rape of the land begun by powerful commercial interests and facilitated by ordinary people hoping to share the spoils. Those drawn to this new world have attempted to shape meaningful lives for themselves on terms dictated by those in power, accepting dust and danger in return for the social and physical security of a system with a known author and clear patterns. With the depletion of the phosphate, however, the creator has abandoned his creation, and those who remain must deal with a mysteriously fractured and threatening world.

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Most people blindly continue to trust the author of the system. Believing that Jack O'Boylan will return, they create temporary structures for their lives out of the system's past and present debris. These characters endure but at the expense of their own vitality. The survival of Garden Hills ultimately depends on those who seek out the creator and, finding him nowhere, construct a new system grounded in verifiable realities.

Dolly Ferguson plays the role of savior. Hoping to command the creator's attention by offering herself, she goes in search of Jack O'Boylan. The result of her search, however, is not only a failure to find O'Boylan but the conviction that he never existed and that human appetite controls the world. Inspired by this new gospel, she returns to save Garden Hills. She packages the physical remains of the old order as a tourist attraction, to be viewed through a pay telescope, and converts the blackened phosphate factory into a flashy discotheque to feed the appetites of affluent outsiders. Her final achievement is to cage the surviving heir of the old order, suspending him from the ceiling of the disco for the entertainment of its patrons.

Dolly's success seems the triumph of a decadent humanism in which human appetite is the measure and motive of all things. Ultimately, however, Dolly fails to reshape reality fully to her satisfaction when she is unable to arouse an impotent Fat Man into taking her virginity. Like each of the other characters, she wants to be known and affirmed as a person; like most of the others, she is able to find only partial fulfillment. Money, sex, and power are strong human drives, and those who learn to control them succeed in shaping the world. Love, however, cannot be commanded, and the void left by its absence often fills with hatred.

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