Arin Greenwood's terrific new book, Save the Enemy, is labeled young-adult, but her explorations of libertarian philosophy are not typical of the genre. The story's protagonist, Zoey Trask, is torn between her parents' competing worldviews: her dad's libertarianism and her mom's spirituality. (Believing in spirits, Zoey's dad notes, is worse than stupid — it's irrational). While the novel is billed as a thriller, Greenwood's funny, psychologically astute characters make the fantastical story line seem just outside the bounds of normal. An excerpt:
Your dad probably read you books like The Giving Tree when you were a kid. My dad did read me The Giving Tree once, calling it "evil" in that it "promotes the immoral destruction of the self." (I was four.) He preferred Atlas Shrugged, which is basically about how rich people shouldn't pay taxes. He has explained to me a lot over the course of my seventeen years that taxes are "slavery." People are only "free when they act as they want to act." Perfect for toddlers--is my sarcasm coming through?--Atlas Shrugged is also the novelized explanation of the writer Ayn Rand's "objectivist" philosophy, of "rational self-interest," in other words: extreme selfishness.
Try to get your mind around that a minute. Try to imagine your father preaching the virtues of extreme selfishness. Now imagine being four, the most selfish age in the world. Imagine trying to understand objectivism. Imagine trying to understand anything other than wanting to play and eat ice cream. (So I guess I was a good objectivist even without knowing it.) Over the years Dad tried to explain objectivism in less abstract terms. He said that people should be able to buy what they want and act how they want without the government or other people getting in their way. Interestingly, for all this, I still wasn't allowed to set my own bedtime.
I've known Greenwood, and even worked with her briefly at The Huffington Post. A journalist by day, she adores animals and lives with her husband, Ray, in Old Town Alexandria, Va., where Save the Enemy is set. I interviewed her Monday about her new novel, which was published today by SoHo press. Below is an abbreviated version of our conversation.
It seems like your protagonist is pulled between, on the one hand, supernaturalism and, on the other hand, this hyper-rational libertarian philosophy. Can you talk about that tension?
She loves her dad, who's instilled in her this hyper-rationalism (sort of — he also has his nonrational idiosyncrasies). But on the other hand, she's also drawn to mystical things. I think she's coming to realize that she has to make choices in life. She's not especially inclined to do that on her own, and she's seeing that her parents' choices didn't really turn out in ideal ways. But she has to start choosing, all the same.