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'The Mandibles' Is Financial Dystopia With A Bite

For the last couple of months, we've brought you our series, Hanging On, about the increasing pressure on the middle class in 2016.

Now, we bring you Hanging On: 2029.

Of course, it's fiction. Lionel Shriver's new novel, The Mandibles, chronicles the pressure on a once well-to-do family as they try to survive in the uncertain future. It's 2029; the U.S. economy has tanked, the dollar is worthless, inflation is rampant — and the wall between the U.S. and Mexico is meant to keep impoverished Americans north of the border.

The Mandible family loses their fortune after the 2029 crash. They plummet from the relative luxuries of the upper middle class to a small Brooklyn townhouse where four generations of the family must crouch together, enduring a life of hardship, drudgery, and eventually, violence. It's a dystopia with a side of economic theory.

Author Lionel Shriver tells NPR's Linda Wertheimer that in the world of 2029, the U.S. has defaulted on its national debt. "Nobody wants to give you money if you're not going to pay it back," she says, so the government has had to print more money to cover its obligations.

"And of course that means that the value of the dollar starts to slide. But the key to writing this book, I discovered, was to control the scale and not to let things fall apart too quickly. So to begin with, my characters are a little distressed that the price of imported olive oil has gone up."

Interview Highlights

On the slide into social savagery

I wanted to record civil breakdown by degrees ... it's not all at once, it's not, you flip a switch and suddenly people are dog-eat-dog and regard everything in a Darwinian, animalistic way. I think that it starts subtly ... you walk into a restaurant and the maitre d' does not see you to your table, but just waves at it. Or doormen no longer carry groceries for the elderly. It's that little.

On studying economic theory

I used to be bored to death by economics, and then I started reading about it, and I have to say, it's fascinating. In fact, it's become apocalyptic. It's like reading science fiction.

On fears of economic collapse

I think we all have a certain setting in terms of how much we worry about anything, really, but say, how much we worry about money. And when I was not doing all that well, I would worry about not being able to pay my modest rent. And now I make more money, and I worry about worldwide economic collapse. It still makes me anxious.

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NPR Staff