The Story: Repo Men, by Eric Garcia (or The Repossession Mambo, depending on who’s asking), relates the rise and fall of one of the Credit Union’s top Bio-repo men. After an accident on the job forces him into hiding, the hunter becomes the hunted as the Bio-repo man is forced to confront his own demons from the past and devils of the present. But will he end up escaping with his life or will it be reclaimed?
First, the world-building, while not new in concept, it still solid. It takes a modernized healthcare system and morphs it into a capitalistic entity. The premise goes like this: imagine if you could replace every organ in your body with an artificial counterpart. You could own a new liver, lungs, even a larynx that could never succumb to aging or disease. Sounds good, right? Well…only if you keep up with the payments. If you do, then your artiforg (artificial organ) is yours for life. If you don’t, you’ll be called upon by the not-so-friendly Bio-repo man with scalpel in hand, ready to reclaim your past due ‘forg and return it to the Union. For an outrageous sum of money (plus interest), every facet of your body can be replaced and repossessed. And with that understanding in place, readers are thrown into a world where one’s life is literally tied to one’s bank account.
Story-wise, Repo Men follows a non-sequential plot driven by flashbacks told by one of the Union’s top Bio-repo men who never gets a name, which is intriguing. For an author not to name a character is one thing, but to never have the character name himself nor have other characters call him by name is interestingly unsettling. There’s symbolism at play here where the no-named Bio-repo man clearly serves as an Everyman character – a literary figure embodying universal struggles. Hence, the fact he’s never called by name is meant to make him blend into his world yet his tale of tribulations and trials truly makes him stand out.
Life for our Bio-repo man is good until an accident earns him a new heart, which he can’t pay for, which drives him into hiding. But if it isn’t bad enough to always be looking over your shoulder, he fears the Bio-repo man who might come to call on him in the end. (But I’m not telling lest I ruin the surprise.) It’s the classic hunter-turned-hunted theme where the main character is a sympathetic jerk yet remains a likable jerk, and you find yourself hoping against the odds that he can outsmart, or at least outrun, those who come to claim his life.
(Actually, to be honest, I thought Jude Law’s portrayal of this character in the film adaptation was less jerk-like as well as a much younger version. Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Law’s interpretation of Garcia’s character was highly enjoyable. Plus he still brought out the big guns when it was needed. Or make that knives – Bio-repo men love their sharp objects!)
The Bio-repo man is a very universal character. He often wants to do what’s good and right but struggles over it. Reader sympathy comes from this frustration of making choices, finding out you’ve made bad ones, and having to live with the consequences. The Bio-repo man’s life is a series of events that, much like the mambo itself, maneuvers back and forth in a morally grey zone: some choices he makes are good, others acceptable for the situation, others not-so-good, and others the lesser of several evils. Kind of sounds like life, doesn’t it? Well, except for the organ repossession bit.
Garcia’s Bio-repo man is clearly intelligent and observant. Sure, he has street smarts, probably more so than book smarts, but he’s no idiot nor is he TSTL (too stupid to live). He learns from his mistakes and eventually realizes that while he might have lost his heart, he has uncovered his soul. And it’s this soul that colors the way he views his past as he retells it, from his time at war, to his failed marriages, to his Bio-repo work. The most poignant portions are when the Bio-repo man laments over his first wife, Beth, a prostitute. Though he certainly suffers from a lack of sexual self-control, he actually regrets her choice of occupation and reveals she’s one of his few wives he genuinely loved. He clearly carries a torch for her as Beth never seems to reciprocate his sentiments. The Bio-repo man’s unrequited love is something that pulls on a deep emotional level. Overall, Garcia really gets inside this character’s head and draws out every conceivable conflicted emotion, yet it all blends and works without becoming sappy or overwhelming.
Garcia’s dark wit also weaves threads of deeper messages. What if we could prolong our lives – does that mean we should? When faced with moral grey areas, where does one draw the line? Since we can’t go back to the past, how should we live in the present? Repo Men is definitely a product of a postmodern age where the “little man” defines his own sense of freedom and takes on something bigger than himself. There is a dose of redemption in the novel as well, a serendipitous moment if you will, when the Bio-repo man comes to grips with his situation and recognizes the power and importance of personal sacrifice.
Repo Men might not be the most recognized work of modern sci-fi and it tends to receive its share of criticism; but it blew me away, and there are very few books I can say that about. The novel is dark, funny, violent, thought-provoking, and moving, not to mention its payoff is definitely worth the ride. I dread most book endings because they never close out the way I think they should, but Repo Men pulls a twist that is a surprise but fits. Overall, this is a different take on a dystopian theme yet hits much closer to home than you might expect.
Language – Frequent (though not pervasive) uses of PG-13 and some R-level language, including vulgarities.
Violence – This novel isn’t a shock-fest but it does possess some violence (organ repo isn’t a clean job, you know) though often times these scenes are set up to be darkly humorous. For those of you thinking organ repossession equals a gore-fest, you will be sadly disappointed. Or relieved. Repo Men (the novel) isn’t very violent at all. Unlike the movie, which has that *one* scene that probably turned the most stomachs. (But Jude Law was shirtless at the time so I kind of wasn’t paying attention…)
Sexual Material – The narrator makes it no secret that he “loves” the ladies (that’s “love” used in a very loose way). Though most of his sexual encounters are recounted in brief (often with vulgarities), the most prolonged scene is when he partakes in Beth’s “services.” However, the scene cuts away and what happens is left up to the reader’s imagination. Overall, sex is primarily hinted at or heavily implied but it avoids becoming explicit.
Don’t you just love books that do their own thing, uncaring how it’s been done before or what would give most editors ulcers just thinking about it? I do, and so I imagine Repo Men says this to the neighboring books on my shelf, taunting them with this eternal mantra…
Because in many ways, Repo Men does do whatever it wants.
In the end, Repo Men is a great choice if you’re hunting for a sci-fi read that is off the beaten path and features an engaging writing style and interesting narrative structure though, as you might have presumed, it’s strictly for adult readers. The main character is relatable, strange as it sounds, as he struggles with decisions of all shapes and sizes and has to come to terms with the consequences. Needless to say, he has an awakening that is both unexpected and fulfilling, both for his character and the reader.
As a side note, I actually prefer the book’s ending to the movie’s ending as I felt the film lets the “enemy” get away with too much, more so than the novel; but since the script for Repo Men was co-penned by Eric Garcia, I’ll let it slide. Plus it starred Jude Law, acting extraordinaire and all-around sexiest man alive, just in case I forgot to mention that point.