Dave Eggers Thinks Amazon is An Existential Threat!




THE EVERY (2021)

By Dave Eggers

Penguin Random House, 608 pages.



The Every opens with these words:


This story takes place in the near future. Don’t try to work out when. Any anachronisms of time and physics occur on purpose. All errors pertaining to technology, chronology, or judgment are intentional and exist to serve you better.


If you recall The Circle (book or film), this is its sequel. For once, the second act is superior.  The Circle was a Google/Not Google/Microsoft/Not Microsoft/Amazon/Not Amazon dystopia. Dave Eggers pulls no such punches in The Every; his corporation bent upon global control is Amazon. As we come in upon The Every, it is busy acquiring three companies a week for the sole purpose of stripping them of any value and destroying them—all in the name of “saving” humankind from the horrors of competition, inefficiency, waste, and crippling choice. Moreover, it claims to be saving the planet. Its main campus on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay has banned plastic, has mandatory recycling of virtually everything, is scent-free, and vegetarian.


Think of The Every as Orwell crossed with a take-down of cancel culture and seemingly benevolent fascism. One of its (many) mottos is “sharing is caring.” In that spirit, every employee is perpetually connected  to devices and various apps that make all their medical data available, advise when to drink, when to exercise, and when to sleep. Anything that can’t be measured is deemed worthless and the ovals worn on the form-fitting lycra of Every employees rates all activities, including positive green flashes for using multi-syllabic words or giving low scores for not posting enough content each day. (It doesn’t matter what.)


 Its founder, the Bezos-like Eamon Bailey, has given over the company reins to Mae Holland. (They are holdovers from The Circle.) Holland, though, is rumored to be on shaky ground as she hasn’t had a new idea in ages (whatever that might mean in such an instant feedback world). The company’s reach has become so universal that only a few “trog” pockets exist and even they are under heavy surveillance. (Motto: “peace through surveillance.”) Since almost everyone is connected, why not harvest data to “improve” the world? Another motto: “clarity is objectivity.” The data is “clear,” for instance, that Norman Rockwell is the greatest artist who has ever lived. FictFix can clean up old novels and removal material that might distress a reader.Does such a world scare you?


It scares Delaney West, a young woman from Idaho now sharing a San Francisco trog apartment with odd duck Wes Makazian. She’s very smart and wants to take down Every, but as a lit major she needs Wes’ tech savvy. The idea is to secure a job at the main campus, learn its vulnerabilities, and create apps that are so outrageous that the masses will stir rise up in anger to destroy the global monolith. How about an app that allows anonymous employees to report on the micro aggression of someone else?  Or one that uses Alexa-like devices to listen for words or angry voices and report them to the police so they can intervene to prevent a crime before one happens?  What else can be promoted in the name of making people feel “safe?” AuthentiFriend measures who really cares about you, another assures voting rights for Every account holder, and still another makes consumer choices so you won’t make a mistake. StayStïl allows you to “travel” without leaving the Every, thereby reducing the carbon footprint and saving possible discomfort such as observing animals harming each other.


There are rumblings in the air. Is Holland the target of a palace coup? Are there other trog sympathizers on Treasure Island? What can Delaney come up with that would be the proverbial final straw? Can she hide without disconnecting and thereby calling attention to herself? Then again, who can’t be co-opted in a globe full of sheeple? Is Delaney or anyone else fooling anyone? And the ultimate question: What if most of the world likes being told what to do? 


If you’re a trog, The Every is a chilling look at a dehumanized future brought on by its very victims. One wonders whether Eggers’ opening comments are meant to be smug, cautionary, or ironic, though that is essentially a debate over each of his books. He is open to the charge of launching a personal vendetta against Amazon, but that doesn’t necessarily make him wrong. If you enjoy irony embedded in irony, though, you can buy The Every on Amazon!


Rob Weir


The Power of the Dog an Astonishing Masterpiece




Directed by Jane Campion

Netflix (distributor), 126 minutes, R (language, nudity)





The Power of the Dog has been nominated for a dozen Academy Awards. With due respect to several other really good movies, it is the not just the finest film of 2021, it is one of the very best of the 21st century. The only things that would prevent it or director Jane Campion–who is also nominated for best adapted screenplay–from winning everything in sight is that it’s not a Hollywood movie and Campion has won before (The Piano).


Why do non-Americans have a better grasp of U.S. history and national metaphors than those born here? Part of the blame lies with Hollywood, which plays to tired formulas rather than taking chances. The joke is on Hollywood; Campion’s film has already quintupled its production costs with an English lead (Benedict Cumberbatch) and a cast that includes four Aussies, a Canadian, and two others who, like Ms. Campion, hail from New Zealand.


The title comes from the Old Testament Book of Psalms 22:20: Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog! King David used it and other scavenging animals as metaphors for his enemies. Christians say it prefigures the Crucifixion of Jesus. Campion adapted a 1983 Western novel by Thomas Savage of the same name, and perhaps you’ll wonder why on earth the title wasn’t changed. Be patient; all will be explained.


On the surface (key word), The Power of the Dog is a Western, but this one is not of the John Wayne variety. It is set in Montana in the year 1925, a time in which cattle drives are long over and ranching is in transition. Two brothers, Phil (Cumberbatch) and George Burbank (Jesse Plemons) have grown rich from the ranch, but Phil hangs on to bygone days and George has seen the future.


Phil, is a man’s man–there’s a joke here but I won’t spoil it–and fits most of your preconceptions of a cowboy: sweaty, dirt-caked, stubble-faced, and loud-mouthed. He left Yale for the rugged life, spends his days with other ranch hands, and regales them with tales of yore when he hung out with his mentor, Bronco Henry. Phil ascribes Bunyanesque qualities to Henry, whose (metaphorical) ghost haunts Phil’s thoughts.


George is altogether different. He has cleaned up his act to the degree that his conversations with his brother are practically monosyllabic. He has become mild-mannered, polite, and has exchanged his dusty duds for fancy ones. Rather than drink and whore with the boys, he has his eye on the widow Rose Gordon (Kirsten Dunst), whom he soon marries. (Plemons and Dunst are also married in life.) With Rose comes her son, the effeminate Peter (Kodi Smit-Phee), who at first is Phil’s object of ridicule. Smit-McPhee was an inspired choice. He’s the proverbial tall sip of water, a guy who over six-feet tall but looks as if he’s all legs. He’s a perfect foil for Phil, though watch his eyes, as they tell a different tale.


The pace of the film is slow and told in various chapters, but Campion brilliantly sneaks profound themes and tropes into her picture: sweat and cleanliness, the coming of modernism, sibling rivalry, respectability and alcoholism, banjo versus piano, things covered and uncovered, schemes gone wrong and those realized. At its core are damaged people who cannot express their true natures. Had this film been made in the 1970s, it would have been labeled an anti-Western Western. In other words, it’s more Robert Altman than John Ford.


Campion deftly personifies non-humans. The long-dead Henry never appears, nor does his ghost, but his saddle is so fetishized that you expect it to speak. Steers, horses, gloves, and hats are more than background, and cinematographer Ari Wegner shows you Montana as you’ve never seen it–unless you’ve been to Central Otago in New Zealand! His shots are so convincing, though, that belief will be suspended. Campion and Wegner also use the hulking decrepit-on-the-outside/posh-on-the-inside Burbank mansion, but situate it amidst a landscape so huge that it looks as if the sky will open its maw and swallow it whole. A shout out also goes to Jonny Greenwood whose musical score perfectly sets the mood without resorting to pyrotechnics. Even small things are done expertly, such as taking Keith Carradine out of his usual Western hero/villain role and casting him as Montana’s governor.


From start to finish, The Power of the Dog is a masterpiece.


Rob Weir





February 2022 Music Reviews: Caamano and Ameixeiras, Claudia Combs Carty, Foundry Town Survivors, Rachel Magoola


The sounds of Galicia come alive courtesy of two talented young women, singer/accordionist Sabela Caamaño and violinist Anita Ameixeiras. Their album Aire! is mostly instrumental with either Caamaño or guest vocalist Sílvia Peréz Cruz adding occasional leads or filler voice. A reminder to those who have forgotten; Galicia is in the far northwest corner of Spain and was once the domain of Celtic tribes. Galician music sometime baffles listeners because it sounds sort of Spanish sometimes and sort of Celtic. This duo sounds more Spanish, but they also do things such as give a Galician and Basque spin on Bulgarian tunes, as they do on "Buchimista" which is also a good tune to check out because you’ll also hear Caamaño on the trikitixa, a two-row accordion common in both Basque country and Galicia that’s noted for having buttons on both sides of the squeeze box tuned a fifth apart. It produces a distinctive “stutter” effect that sounds a bit like bip-bip-bip or bup-bup-bup. “Maneo de Cambre” uses accordion drone to accompany lovely singing, though I confess I could do without the video’s weird improv dance which looks like Lurch having a spasm. “Alegría Dio’la dea!” has a better unusual addition, a bit of musical saw that I first thought was a theremin. Though the title track feels darker, the album’s overall vibe is of joyous village life, as you will experience to fine effect on “Florencío.” ★★★★


Let’s (sort of) stay in Spain for a moment I adore the voice of Claudia Combs Carty, a Barcelona native who now lives in Boston. On her debut record Phases, she accompanies herself on piano for the most part. She lays bare her soul on the breakup song “All That,” which she reminds is harder than it sounds when it’s a long-term relationship that’s been shipwrecked. “Don’t Blame Me” is another in this vein: Don’t blame me, don’t blame me/Even though it was my fault don’t blame me/Don’t blame me, don’t blame me/I’m the one carrying a heart that will never be free. In fact, you have to wend your way to the last track, “You Make MeWanna Stay” to get away from a theme she introduces in “Silent Whispers” where she proclaims, I’m a broke down woman. Carty’s voice will stay with you and is reminiscent of the go-low/go-high tones of Carrie Newcomber. The downside is that Carty’s tunes might not. I get it that most people want music in mp.3 form these days, but there’s a real problem with how producers fail to realize the need to record with more care; compressed files have less room to compensate for differing tones and volume. Carty’s a capable pianist but when the keys are too loud, the vocals sound muddy. Take away the mic from the piano and set her songs free. ★★★ ½


If you are of a certain age and grew up along the shores of Lake Erie near Detroit, you have witnessed the American Dream crest and crash. It’s no wonder that the Foundry Town Survivors wrote a song titled “Hope and Dreams” for their self-titled EP, though it’s actually about a drug-runner whose luck is about to run out. Ominous electric guitar interludes heighten the foreboding. The Factory Town Survivors are a rock band anchored by Mark Tomorsky and Tommy Johnsmiller. Theirs is a hearty blend of hard and soft rock spiced with psychedelia and folk rock. The latter gives them a unique flavor in that unlike (too) many hook-defined rock bands, they pay a lot of attention to melody and clear vocals. That’s crucial when you’re telling stories. “Foundry Town” starts with a carefree ten-year-old boy growing up in the shadow of factories and lakeside shipping and moves us to this: Now there is a man/He’s standing gray with time/He knows that his world is gone/But the memories are sublime. The man’s grayness is a metaphor for postindustrialism, a fact driven home by images from the official video. “Mississippi Rising” tells of flooding along the big river, but images from the 1930s are mixed with those from recent history to make us see that it’s mostly poor folks who suffer from events shrugged off as yearly routines. A splash of mandolin gives the instrumentals an Americana feel. It’s as if this band is Springsteen sans the gruff voice. If you need a break from the heaviness, cue “Everything’s Okay” and you, like the narrator, can muse upon finding your happy place and staying there. ★★★★  


Rachel Magoola lives in Uganda, a place whose recent history is far worse than Detroit’s. Instead of lamenting it, she became part of the change and got elected to Parliament. In addition to those duties, she’s a longtime member of Afrigo Band, Uganda’s longest-running musical act, and also fronts her own band. The very title of her new record sings to her optimism, Resilience: Songs of Uganda. Magoola can bring it and has rhythm to burn, but she largely ducks the diva role to be part of a richer musical performance. Watch her sing “Emaali (Bride Price).” She takes the stage Aretha-like, but melds with the band for a joyous dip into some singing, some stage exhortation, percussion galore, and some flute, guitars, and keys. The feel is more trance than star turn. “Otuuse (You Have Arrived)” is sunny, light, and swaying. Bird-like vocalizations from other band members lend the impression of a morning song. Magoola honors her mother in “Maama Mutesi,” and we often hear singing in the split-second spaces between xylophone and thumb piano notes. Note how the band introduces brass to embolden the tune. For pure fun, though, watch her video to “Mugati gwa Butter (Bread and Butter).” She threads the seams between performer, politician, elder, and teacher in a piece that suggests simple things like bread and butter take the sting out of minor annoyances. And dancing makes it better still. ★★★★


Rob Weir