To say Ed Caine has some interesting views on life, and death, is putting it mildly. He could be forgiven though, given the tragedy he has endured. His wife, Jill, was one of the nine victims of the Solemn Stalker serial killer. That Ed was inside watching game shows when she was murdered just across the street while gardening only adds to the crushing intensity of his loss.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, Ed spirals down into a deep depression. He quits his job, rarely leaves the house, and retreats into his own head, obsessing over Jill’s murder. Over time, and with tremendous effort, he slowly pulls himself out of his dark hole, moves to another town, and begins a new relationship.
Just when things seem to be resuming some semblance of normalcy, while on a camping trip Ed again loses the woman he loves. Except this time he is responsible through more than just negligence. Ed is the instrument of her death, and not only does he not feel guilt this time, he feels it was his duty. Ed, you see, has discovered he is a One Percenter.
As Ed sees it, natural selection has lost its effectiveness. Those with enough money and access to state-of-the-art medical care can thwart nature’s attempts to weed out the infirm. Similarly, the weak can thrive by paying others to fight their battles for them, literally and figuratively. To Ed, that’s not the way it’s supposed to be:
Ninety-eight percent of you mean nothing. You were born to live long enough to fuck, to breed, to pass your genes. What you learn in your lifetime might be significant to you, but it means nothing to the world at large. One percent of you – or thereabouts…scientists still argue about the numbers – are mutators. You bring rapid change. Your genes are special. Don’t go out celebrating yet. Change isn’t always good. At least your lives have true meaning though. Most people are as crucial to the fate of the world as paper doilies. Then there’s the remaining one percent. We’re nature’s goalies. We clean up the mess when nature “makes a mistake.” We put out the fire. Nature’s relief pitchers.
In case there’s any doubt what Ed means by that, he sees it as his job to “remove” people from the gene pool who are cheating the system. Ed throws himself into his newfound job with all the gusto of an ace coming out of the bullpen at the bottom of the 9th in Game 7 of the World Series, and slowly a figure who started out in a position of engendering tremendous sympathy transforms into something…different.
That the book is told from Ed’s first-person point of view creates a genuine sense of unease, one which steadily grows as the book progresses. Ed tells his story directly to the reader, who he address as “you” frequently, the result of which is a disturbing sense of complicity in Ed’s actions. Eventually you can no longer tell whether Ed is relaying to you a truth you were unaware of, a lie he wants you to believe, or the delusions of a mind that has suffered a psychotic break with reality; you are merely a passenger, along for a ride on a runaway train you have absolutely no hope of stopping.
The One Percenters is one of the most interesting books I’ve read in a while. Make no mistake about it, this is not a “serial killer with a cause” book. No, author John Podgursky has gone for something much more ambitious, a challenging of societal and religious ideas about the worth of a human being, and for my money he hit the mark dead-on. In fact, the only thing more disturbing than some of the ideas Ed advocates is that you may find yourself actually thinking some of them make sense in a detached, big picture kind of way.
And I guarantee you, no matter how clever you think you are you’ll never see the ending coming. You’ll think you do, and you may be close…but not quite. The One Percenters was a joy to read, and is a hidden gem that more people need to discover. Not only will you be entertained, you’ll be challenged. Flash and substance? What a marvelous combination.
The One Percenters is available from Damnation Books (ISBN: 978-1615720125).