Two Minutes to Midnight
M. Ray Lott
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Buy *Two Minutes to Midnight* online

Two Minutes to Midnight

M. Ray Lott
Winterwolf Publishing
224 pages
January 2004
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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M. Ray Lott's Two Minutes to Midnight is an Orwellian exercise in "what-if" that is at its core a warning of the dangerous path today's struggles to ensure social equality may lead us down. This cautionary tale doesn't point a finger at a mere single faction (read: knee-jerk liberals or unfeeling conservatives) or issue as culpable for a future where reward is based not on ability nor even need. Everyone and no one is ultimately responsible for a future where a mockery has been made of the land of the free. This is America through the looking glass.

Curled Up With a Good BookThe novel centers on a pivotal figure in the formation of the Confederated States of America, the legendary Resistance fighter and Protectorate Agent Nat Turner, née James William Gilchrist. Bouncing back and forth in time between Turner's days on death row in the burlesque that the U.S. has become and the real story of his desperate childhood flight toward Canada with his parents, the narrative draws the reader in almost against his will, often making one squirm uncomfortably with the dystopian potential for what most see as today's progressive policies.  Between the absurd extremes to which governmentally mandated affirmative action, racial parity and reparations have been taken and the disastrous effects of ecologically unwise natural resource abuse at the hands of purely profit-minded big business, the once-great nation is on the verge of imploding.

Through the plight of young James and his estranged parents, the morbidly fascinating morass of nonsensical social engineering is revealed. It's capitalism turned inside out, communism upended, socialism eating its own tail. Jobs, possessions, even spouses are handed out not based on merit, ability or even love, but on the degree to which any given person's special status group has been historically mistreated.  The haves are forced to give their lives up to the have-nots; even history is being rewritten to include oppressed minorities, no matter the veracity of the new accounts. The climate has gone to hell, and in the few places where precipitation still falls, the sizzle of burning acid fills the air rather than the gentle patter of rejuvenating rain.  There are more lawyers than laymen, and criminals more often than not are successful in suing their victims. In other words, it's become a place where no self-respecting sane person would want to stay, between the re-education camps where torture is always on the daily menu and the RSS, the glorified vice squads on the prowl for anyone violating the laws governing race and sex.

The story of the Gilchrist family on the run is punctuated by the adult Turner's death-row journal, and as the story unfolds the reader begins to see the toll that fighting to take back a stolen nation has exacted on a bright, once-naive boy, shaping him into a ruthless, jaded agent of a new government in danger of becoming just another version of the corrupt old boss.

Lott's narrative is at times astonishing in its eloquence whether or not the reader ultimately agrees with the underlying philosophy, especially in the first half of the book.  That fluency founders somewhat in the second half of the book, in which the adult Turner is tailing a possible mole in the Confederate States. The partial loss of articulateness is due to a slacker copy- and line-editing ethic later in the book, but by then the reader is hooked and would stumble through a far pricklier thicket of misused homonyms and inadvertently doubled words to find out how James Gilchrist/Nat Turner and his mission fare. An interesting, challenging commentary on one possible looming social distortion.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Sharon Schulz-Elsing, 2004

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