Print Edition: July 18, 2012
It may be hopelessly cliché to recommend a book as a “summer read,” but S.G. Redling’s Flowertown is precisely that – in spades. It’s a relatively short yet captivating page-turner with a unique setting and intriguing plot, light enough that you won’t give yourself a headache trying to read it on the beach. Nor does it pretend to be something it isn’t; it’s an entertaining thriller-mystery, nothing more, and to this end it delivers successfully.
The novel takes place in Flowertown, an area consisting of seven miles of Iowa that has been contaminated from a serious pesticide spill, thanks to the Feno Chemical corporation. The area and its inhabitants—those who have survived the devastating effects of the spill—have been fenced off and contained from the rest of the world. Now, they can only survive by regularly taking body-brutalizing drugs in order to counteract the toxic chemicals that have leached into their systems, making “their skin put off a sickeningly sweet smell, like the smell of too many flowers in too small room.” Hence the name “Flowertown.”
There is no cure, leaving for any amount of time is nearly impossible, and Flowertown’s inhabitants are at the mercy of the government and Feno Chemical. Many, like the protagonist Ellie, have become apathetic stoners, while others, like Ellie’s best friend Bing, have become suspicious, sensing a dark conspiracy concerning the fate of the contaminated. It isn’t difficult to anticipate the direction the novel takes from here.
Flowertown is a very strong start for a first time novel; the writing is solid, the plot stimulating and the characters relatable. Flowertown is pure pop entertainment, and should be appreciated as such. The book is very well set-up to be adapted to film, and one can’t help but wonder if that was the author’s intention from the start. Undoubtedly, with a bit of tweaking it would make an excellent movie, possibly outshining the book itself.
The characters, while likable, certainly aren’t overly complex. Redling has tried to make them seem deeper by having them defy the basic psychological personalities they’ve been assigned, but it doesn’t quite seem to pan out and the characters remain fairly static. It seems that the layer under smartass stoner is still smartass stoner—albeit a more heroic stoner—and that the layer under her G.I. Joe hero boyfriend is still definitely G.I. Joe.
Of course, one character does have a complete 360-degree personality switch, but frankly it seems unbelievably farfetched, and can undoubtedly be said to be the weakest point of the novel. It feels as though Redling is trying to say something about human nature, but is unclear herself what this is exactly, and things ultimately break down to the basic dichotomy of good versus evil. Despite this poor twist, the ending is somewhat satisfying; though setting it up for a sequel in the last few lines wasn’t really a good move either. Ellie is a decent protagonist, but doesn’t possess enough compelling qualities to merit a sequel. But these are minor points.
If you’re looking for deeper meaning, you won’t get much more than the over-exploited warning of the powerful threat of large corporations to Middle America. Perhaps the novel is meant to function as a rousing cry to those too stoned and apathetic, like the main character, to perceive the danger until it’s almost too late, but ultimately it succeeds more as a summer evening’s entertainment – not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s definitely worth the few bucks to download.