What if they gave a secession, and everybody came? Eco-activist McKibben (The Age of Missing Information, 1992, etc.) tries his hand at fiction, to mixed results.
There was a long-ago time, McKibben reminds his readers, when Vermont broke off from New York to form its own republic, which lasted for 14 years before it joined the U.S. So why not once again? It’s not as if the Berners would get the bomb. Instead, the independent Vermont dreamed of by old back-to-the-land-hippie protagonist Vern Barclay is a paradise of “Vermont milk, Vermont beer, Vermont music,” a place of a “free local economy, where neighbors make things for neighbors—and so they actually bother to give them some taste, body, and character.” It’s not just rhetoric; in a caper that opens McKibben’s yarn, secessionists hijack a Coors truck, explaining to the befuddled driver that since Vermont has “more breweries per capita than any place on earth,” there’s no real need for industrial beer from outside. That puts the secessionists on the wrong side of the law in a scene that could have come from Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, of which McKibben’s book might just as well have been a lost sequel, suitably updated so that the insurrectionists drive Subaru Foresters, work around Asperger’s syndrome, and ponder the reality of the system (“maybe Garth Brooks was real, in his own mind”). As with Abbey’s book, McKibben’s players are symbols as much as characters, acting out an idea. It’s a fable, in other words, and it gets a little didactic at times. McKibben admits as much, writing in an author’s note that the message isn’t necessarily that the nation should splinter so much as that “when confronted by small men doing big and stupid things”—and we all know who he means—“we need to resist with all the creativity and wit we can muster.”
A timely yarn that, though a little obvious and a little clunky, makes for a provocative entertainment.