Thursday, May 14, 2015

Leeram in Fordlandia by Buell Hollister

Leeram in Fordlandia
by Buell Hollister

Reviewed by Alice Weiss

At the center of Buell Hollister’s novel, Leeram in Fordlandia, is a dies ex machine in the form of an Amazonian shrunken head that comes into the hands of its possessor, a middle-aged ne’er do well Brookline resident, Gilbert Greenbush, quite by chance and who manages to transform Greenbush’s life of boredom, diffidence, and loneliness, into one of adventure, confidence, and geniality, even romance. The way through to these appealing transformations is a kind of reverse fairy tale, where our hero is taken into what would have been the wilds of the Amazonian rain forest except the Ford Motor Company got there first, and built many years before, what is now an abandoned rubber plantation, where local workers were exploited and the environment abused.

The narrator’s voice is first person, slangy, cynical, even clueless. As the central character in the story, though, he begins to discover that he can operate in a new world. It is a dream we all have, at least I do, some fairy god-person takes us someplace new which looks rather like the old world we actually live in but we are transformed into capable respected adults. Well that’s what happens to Greenbush. The trip of the book, and I mean that in the broadest sense, is how Leeeram maneuvers him into capability success, and maintains it for him. On the way Greenbush discovers an appealing woman, Lisa, and a forceful and competent friend of hers, Suxie, (deliberately not sexy I suppose with underlying hints of sucky) a child of Amazonian immigrants, who luckily steals the head, and begins them on the journey to resurrect the town of Fordlandia, and everyone else in the nearby villages. Ultimately included in the journey are human helpers, among them two professors, knowledgeable about a special kind of crop which also incidentally goes some way toward solving the problem of world hunger and who also have useful connections to the U.S.Department of Agriculture . My favorites are two researchers, Ben and Seth, computer and biologically savvy, who ultimately figure out how to get hook up a certain kind of jungle grass to batteries which literally electrify Fordlandia and the surrounding villages and towns. The technique is to use the electricity generated by an intervention in the process of photosynthesis. It seems to me a delightful answer to obtaining power from a renewable resource, our lawns. 

The engine of all this is a interface with the afterlife provided by Leeram who it turns out is not just a genie. Instead he has a muscular connection to an afterlife so vast that it contains everybody he needs to see. One would have to go back to the Greeks to imagine an afterlife so afflicted with the sins and pressures of this world. Two of the interesting “wormholes” into that source of consultancy, are the grave of Suxie’s grandfather who returns with an understanding of the powers of jungle flora, as well as live memories of the Ford plant operations. Which leads me to my favorite part of the book. Henry Ford comes back as a river dolphin, and more remarkably, a liberal. He has to be keep in a water cage in order to, well stay alive and advise the often hapless but well meaning missionaries of capitalism, that people this book. With its unexpected discoveries and sometimes hilarious solutions, this book is a romp.

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