Review of David Gilbertson’s “Containment”
Containment by David Gilbertson struck me as something halfway between a dystopian fairy tale and a grand psychological experiment.
We are introduced to Edward, the main character, who has lost his wife sometime back and is doing his best to take care of his young son on his own. When he finds out that a man with a very dark past has moved into his neighborhood, he becomes fearful for his son’s life and conveniently, it seems, stumbles upon an old army compatriot, Theodore, who has been tucked away from society and presumed dead for a very long time.
The two men begin swapping ideas with one another-Edward brings up the fact that it isn’t right that some dangerous person should be allowed to mix with decent folks. Thus begins these two men’s experiment into realigning the country (in theory, or so it seems) so that the undesirables live with one another and all the good people live together, safely removed from danger. They imagine rankings and qualifications based on a number of factors, including income, positive accomplishments, criminal record and other related factors. They disagree on some, such as health and race, with Theodore being the more extreme, but they are able to come up with a very detailed plan. The country will be split into fifty regions, with R1 being the nicest and R50 being where all the depraved criminals reside.
Little does Edward know that Theodore has taken this whole experimental process seriously and knows people in high places in the government who wish to implement this new plan. So over the course of the next year, R50 is built, an identification process is crafted for all citizens, and the government begins moving people into their appropriate places based on their ranking.
The story follows Edward in his journey of realization of what he has created, the fact that it is real, and the consequences based on his and Theodore’s actions.
This book is challenging for me to rate. It is a solid personal story of Edward, and the relationships he has with Theodore and his wife, Natasha, in particular. As a journey of self-discovery and realization it has some intriguing elements. As a dystopian story, it is more of a mixed bag, with it being interesting in theory and this is my reason for calling it a fairy tale at the beginning of this review. I grew up loving history, and later in life discovering alternate history, written mostly by historians who knew enough about real history to twist and bend it enough to make a different path an intriguing and plausible possibility. Containment dwells on our fears, especially in a post 9-11 world, of distancing ourselves from danger that it presents an interesting topic, but I felt there were far too many factors not considered and elements left by the wayside for this to ever be plausible. In theory or as a make believe story with a moral to it? It packs an emotional punch. And yet…the country in question is nameless and has a convenient round numbered population, giving it a more classroom element to it, rather than a reality. The discussions between Edward and Theodore and then later between Edward and Natasha have that classroom/theoretical element to them. Even with the efforts of the author to cover quite a few bases, there is much left to chance and some elements of society left off the table completely. To transition these theories into reality for this tale, several convenient coincidental meetings of people occur and drive the tale along. So once again, this story works in theory-the idea is terrifying. But put into practice, it became somewhat less than believable to me.
I did enjoy this story. I felt that it left off a little abruptly, which might mean that a sequel is in the works. It works as both a personal tale of discovery for Edward and as a fable of government control gone wrong. It just misses a step or two when it comes to transitioning this new world order into something that has a possibility of becoming a reality.