Lazy Suburban Death Panels of the Future

  wonkette world o' books

Incorporating Washington Post Book World.Looking for visions of a hellish future where every American has health insurance, gasoline costs ten dollars a gallon, and nature has largely reclaimed the exurbs from the strip malls and McMansions? If so, Universal Coverage by Daniel Putkowski is calling to you! A dystopian novel “in the tradition of 1984 and Animal Farm” (says elitist literary critic Newt Gingrich), Universal Coverage reveals the horrors of socialized medicine through the tale of one man’s quest to find a Boat-Hospital of Freedom to treat his unwell son. Fawning blurbs from Newt, Steve Forbes, and the president of NYU’s College Republicans are plastered on this book like gaudy lipstick on a common street pig, so it has to be good.

Our protagonist is named Bob Smith. Got that? BOB SMITH. Possibly a tribute to Winston Smith from 1984. We repeat, his name is actually Bob Smith.

Bob Smith and his wife Hannah (more on her later) have a son named Timmy (a tribute to Lassie? Or maybe A Christmas Carol?). They live in Media, Pennsylvania, and young Timmy is the best batter on his Little League team, the Moguls (get it?). Early in the novel, Timmy collapses on the school playground. It turns out he has some sort of heart-valve problem.

Timmy is rushed to the hospital, but the Universal Coverage system of the book’s title isn’t going to help him. The emergency room is crowded and dirty, the wait time is long, and the nurses are all Valley Girls from the 1980s and ’90s, somehow transported into the future:

[H]e met an unofficial-looking woman wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, as if she’d just come from an aerobics class.

“Universal Coverage Card?” she asked, holding out one hand without looking up from the frozen drink she stirred with the other.

Reaching for his wallet, Smith said, “My son was brought here. This is an emergency.”

“Like, duh, that’s why it’s called the emergency room,” came the reply.

Totalitarian ditziness isn’t the only problem with this future USA. In addition to the dismal health care, gas costs far too much:

Several houses on his street remained empty. His former neighbors moved out more than two years ago. Living in the suburbs wasn’t what it used to be. Expensive transportation was the problem. Gasoline cost more than ten dollars a gallon, if you had an approved voucher to buy it. Everyone carpooled or used mass transit to get to work. Leisure trips to the mall or the movies or a restaurant required serious planning.

Because everyone knows that in areas where people rely on public transportation more than cars, shopping and movie-going and eating out are virtually impossible ….

Another disturbing facet of this dying suburb: No one bothers to cut the grass around Media’s empty office parks, or in front of the abandoned strip malls, and tall weeds obscure the local Applebee’s.

Anyway, Timmy needs a pacemaker, but the bureaucratic government doctors won’t give him one. This makes them a death panel, more out of laziness than malice. Bob Smith sees a samizdat teevee advertisement for an offshore private medical clinic that can help Timmy. By “offshore” your reviewer means “it’s an actual boat in international waters doctoring people, for a fee.” Bob Smith busts his son out of the grubby Universal Coverage hospital and escapes to the medical freedom boat, which is called Salvare (the fancy Italian word for “to save”). Apparently, the Salvare boat inspired one reader enough to film an actual YouTube version of the book’s fictional advertisement.

But the real villain of this novel isn’t universal health care. Nor is it the unnamed President who instituted it (and who makes a few pointless appearances in the book). The true terror in Universal Coverage is supplied by Bob Smith’s ball-busting liberal nag of a wife, Hannah.

Her crimes include getting pissy when Bob buys Timmy a bike, going out and drinking with her girlfriends while Bob tends to their son by himself, and generally neglecting her marriage. As Potkowski writes, “Smith felt Hannah should have spent a little more time with him, but she was less a sports nut than a member of the more cultured class ….” Consequently, they sometimes argue “about whether the family budget should be spent on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame or a weekend of Broadway shows.”

Hannah is mean and unpleasant throughout the novel, and even worse, she actually BELIEVES in the Universal Coverage system that’s killing her son. But don’t worry. By the end, it seems Bob is planning on ditching her for a Polish babe who works on the Salvare private-care yacht.

IN CONCLUSION: This might be the least chilling dystopian novel ever written. But any book that advances your favorite political opinions has to be good, right? Not for Wonkette, of course, but for Newt Gingrich and Steve Forbes and other people who think Ayn Rand is the ultimate novelist.

What exactly is the political message here? Something like “Men of America! If universal health care doesn’t get you, your shrewish wife will. THIS IS YOUR FUTURE. WEEP. WEEP.”

Universal Coverage by Daniel Putkowski, Hawser Press, 346 pages, $10.88.

Send a list of your favorite floating hospitals to greer.mansfield@gmail.com.

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77 comments

  1. DustBowlBlues

    Quick, everyone: Nate Silver is on Chrissy. No, wait, don’t watch–it’s Doomsday for Ds. Everyone’s pretend boyfriend has turned on us.

  2. marionetta

    Hai hai from the socialist republic of Canada. Sucks to be us. Universal health care? Priceless.

  3. jus_wonderin

    I love the word dystopian. I am sure that says something about my personality. I’d read the book if it had robots in it as well.

  4. Tim

    I thought the chilling part was when, on page 790 or so, the Reasontard Cruiseboat attempts to board the Salvare, because Lllyweyn Rockwell, executor of Murray Rothbard’s Estate, has a brain tumor. Unfortunately the cruiseboat accidentally rams the Salvare, since during the cruise, the captain voted with his dollars and took another job. I mean, mid-cruise.

  5. simonlcupcake

    So, in our dystopian Universal Care future, they will be serving frozen drinks at the ER, we have universal health care, and the suburbs are on the brink of extinction? Tell me again how this is bad?

  6. Miss Kublik

    Except for the shrewish wife Hannah, everything else in the novel would so work as a dystopian Mel Gibson vehicle (yes, Mel’s the dystopian one). Let’s make Bob a widower instead. Let’s say his wife died during some botched medical procedure. Definitely not a therapuetic abortion, however; maybe the removal of a mole using unsterilized dental floss. Or if Mel’s not available, maybe Kevin Costner might be interested in the project.

    Get me rewrite!!

  7. bored with gravity

    I thought Timmy got hurt falling down a well. Thsi “heart-valve” thing sounds made up.

  8. SmutBoffin

    Uh, wouldn’t the privately-run Salvare have sort of a monopoly on extra-territorial health care? Wouldn’t this floating “free-market” hospital be able to charge whatever the fuck it pleased, having cornered the market on medical care for dying children?

  9. GOPCrusher

    No wonder the residents of all the other industrialized nations and some third-world countries are sneaking into American to take advantage of our best in the world health care.

  10. SayItWithWookies

    Well I see why Newt likes it at least — if your wife is too liberal (i.e. gets cancer — it’s a roman a clef, disease-wise) you get to replace her. And I suppose the people operating the offshore hospital boat are good free-marketers and charge an arm and a leg for their services, right?

  11. j.frigg

    Bonus pointage for teabagger spelling in that kick-ass youTubes. 1:24 — COMPLETE Diagostic Center — lolz. Why don’t dis website allow the /fancyfont/ tag, huh? HUH?

  12. SmutBoffin

    I fear no unsanitary emergency rooms, gum-popping receptionists, or disinterested medical staff, since I currently get care through KAISER PERMANENTE. This future scenario doesn’t sound that bad…

  13. Katydid

    What Newtie meant was, it’s in the tradition of 1984 and Animal Farm in that it’s printed on paper and bound into a book with glue of some sort.

  14. Tommmcatt

    in the tradition of 1984 and Animal Farm”

    Let’s do a little cut-and-paste comparison, shall we?

    Several houses on his street remained empty. His former neighbors moved out more than two years ago. Living in the suburbs wasn’t what it used to be. Expensive transportation was the problem. Gasoline cost more than ten dollars a gallon, if you had an approved voucher to buy it. Everyone carpooled or used mass transit to get to work. Leisure trips to the mall or the movies or a restaurant required serious planning. -from Universal Coverage by Daniel Putkowski

    Winston had disliked her from the very first moment of seeing her. He knew the reason. It was because of the atmosphere of hockey-fields and cold baths and community hikes and general clean-mindedness which she managed to carry about her. He disliked nearly all woman, and especially the young and pretty ones, who were the most bigoted adherents of the party, the swallowers of slogans, the amateur spies and nosers-out of unorthodox. -from 1984, by George Orwell

    No question now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.-from Animal Farm, by George Orwell.

    Maybe if the only tradition you are talking about is that the letters run left-to-right on the page, but otherwise? Not even fucking close.

  15. edgydrifter

    That’s it. I’m cashing in on these fucktards starting today. The next terribly-written, transparent neocon allegory snuff-fantasy novel you see on Newt’s bedside table will be MINE. Believe it!

  16. sati demise

    [re=646711]SmutBoffin[/re]: yea, I was thinking this novel was set during the GW Bush administration.
    Record gas prices- check
    no access to health care- check
    abandoned strip malls- check

    and so on.

  17. PabaBritannica

    I swear to God, not a one of these people have ever been outside the United States and actually seen a hospital.

    Yes, in the dystopian world of Canada, all children who are not in super good health have to die unless they can escape to the US.

    This is, of course, cynical bullplop on the part of people like Teve Torbes. My dad reads Forbes like the bible and donates to the NRSC and when I said I was considering a college in Ontario, he said, literally, “It’s a good place. Nice doctors in Ottawa.” You see, my dad had actually worked in Canada and, like Newt and Teve Torbes, knows this is all cynical bullshit to win the votes of the stupid.

  18. Tim

    If Newt had read “Homage to Catalonia” he would know Orwell would consider him the most grotesque of frauds. He should stick to Burke and de Tocqueville.

  19. natoslug

    [re=646740]edgydrifter[/re]: [/em]Make it a pop-up book and you’ll have an even larger audience. Words are socialist, you know.

  20. natoslug

    [re=646749]natoslug[/re]: Damn, thought I’d try closing the italics. Can’t stand this site’s hard-right slant.

  21. Maus

    Just title the book “modern women are such bitches amirite?” and sell a million copies to adulterous promise-keepers.

  22. OCKerouac

    [re=646743]Tim[/re]: Good to see your off-shore surgery on an over-simplistically named boat was enough of a success to allow you to post on the Wonkett, little Timmy.

    Honestly, this dude has the subtlety of 1,000,000BTU cigarette lighter. If you’re going to publish trashy scare-fiction at least make it mildly ARTISTIC. The Media Moguls. Ferchristssake…

  23. Tim

    [re=646767]OCKerouac[/re]: I’m still on board the Salvari, but I’ll answer any questions you might have

  24. Mad Brahms

    This seriously sounds like the worst book ever. I’m so sorry you had to go through that, Greer.

  25. Naked Bunny with a Whip

    I can think of no more futile an activity than writing a novel for Teabaggers, and I have spent time fishing on World of Warcraft.

  26. OCKerouac

    [re=646772]Tim[/re]: Does the jell-o taste better when it doesn’t have soshulizm cooties all over it?

  27. comicbookguy

    [re=646706]SmutBoffin[/re]: That’s where you’re wrong. In a brilliant triumph of the free market, there are actually hundreds of these boats floating off America’s shores, each competing with each other to provide the finest care at low low prices. Also, frozen daquiris and day trips to Bermuda.

    Because these free market enterprises are profitable, right? Thanks to people like Timmy’s parents who make informed medical decisions and vote with their dollars? I mean they have to make a profit to survive, enough profit to pay for upkeep on a large boat and a small hospital simultaneously. Does Newt mention how much they charge for a new heart valve?

  28. Ken Layne

    A quick email to tip line will alert a sleeping editor to fix the italics or other Errors. (Because, let’s be realistic, if an editor has already seen the italics in the comments, the editor will have already fixed it.)


  29. Post author
    Greer Mansfield

    [re=646743]Tim[/re]: Really? I actually think it’d be best if Newt stayed away from both of them, and everything else really. It’s depressing that those two you mention have been conscripted into the ranks of “Conservative Writers” by modern-day wingnuts…from the bits I know/have read of them they much more interesting and complex than that.

  30. Failure Artist

    Registered finally to point out the whole “son passes out during ball game due to heart problem” is ripped from the pro-healthcare reform movie “John Q.”. Of course the protagonist in that story couldn’t afford a fucking cruise to save his son. He was more worried about not getting enough hours at the plant than having to plan out a trip to the mall (the horror!). Plus no creepy bitchy wife subplot.

  31. Jesus Troubez

    None of this addresses the most important issue for any libertarian piece of work. How’s the rape in this book?

  32. comicbookguy

    So he can’t afford $10 gas, but he can afford an expensive operation on a privately owned for-profit hospital boat? Makes you wonder if simple mathematics ever occurs to anyone in Newt’s book club.

  33. The Lucky Wife

    “Timmy is rushed to the hospital, but the Universal Coverage system of the book’s title isn’t going to help him. The emergency room is crowded and dirty, the wait time is long, and the nurses are all Valley Girls from the 1980s and ’90s, somehow transported into the future.”

    Isn’t that what we have now?

  34. comicbookguy

    [re=646804]The Lucky Wife[/re]: No, the health care system is great as far as the author knows, especially if you make millions selling scary Randian books to rubes.

  35. The Lucky Wife

    [re=646694]simonlcupcake[/re]: I guess you will have to ask a teabagger; the Bush years are their idea of paradise.

  36. The Lucky Wife

    [re=646805]comicbookguy[/re]: Silly me! Those are the folks who claim that we have “the best health care in the world!” Yeah, they can afford it, and could care less about anyone else, especially the Timmy Smiths.

  37. The Lucky Wife

    [re=646798]comicbookguy[/re]: Good question. Does the book even mention how much it will cost Bob to get his son to the boat, how much the operation will cost and how much to get back home? Since the book makes a point of telling us gas costs $10 a gallon, it stands to reason that it would tell us the costs involved in an expensive operation, including getting to and leaving the boat.

  38. weejee

    Instead of “Bob Smith” it would have been more fun if gone with the Winston side. Maybe something like Winston Turd, better known as Winnie the Poop, ’cause clearly this character is a poopyhead.

  39. Guppy06

    [re=646694]simonlcupcake[/re]: Well, in this world, there’s still at least one self-entitled asshat who thinks Uncle Sam should continue to subsidize the fuck out of the road system necessary to support his exurb ass instead of, y’know, paying for healthcare.

    Who you know who else liked a government-subsidized national highway system?

  40. zhubajie

    The idea that there would be no shops or restaurants or movie theaters if people got around via bikes and buses is pretty weird. How come all those libertarian entrepreneurs aren’t starting small businesses?

    Zhu Bajie

  41. mookworthjwilson

    I still want to know how there are even shopping malls or restaurants in operation if no one can get to them with this seemingly nonsensical public transportation system…

  42. lumpenprole

    [re=646784]comicbookguy[/re]:
    ” In a brilliant triumph of the free market, there are actually hundreds of these boats floating off America’s shores, each competing with each other to provide the finest care at low low prices. Also, frozen daquiris and day trips to Bermuda.”

    Wait a sec. These are the good guys, so Jesus would want them to have guns. Not sure competition in international waters among armed pirate healthcare providers would work out so well. “Welcome aboard! Slave trade and parts head below. Donors may procede to the OR.

  43. DoktorZoom

    This sort of reminds me of a similarly dystopian novel about health care, Lionel Shriver’s So Much for That. Only Shriver didn’t need to make up an imaginary oppressive future state for his tale of a family losing everything when the the wife is diagnosed with cancer, because he simply had to run the characters through the meat grinder of the insurance industry as it currently exists.

    Oh, hey, I guess that means that Putowski actually is the more imaginative writer, huh?

  44. BlueStateLiberal

    [re=646740]edgydrifter[/re]: I’ve thought long myself about cashing in on this myself, but you would all hate me here. Still I’d be rich. Perhaps a story about a hardy frontier woman with many children and a speaking/thinking impediment who manages despite all odds and a lamestream media to overthrow a tyrannical government that forces aid and money on the people of her backwoods province.

  45. DoktorZoom

    [re=646823]DoktorZoom[/re]: Dude, you actually read a third of the stoopid novel (it was too polemical, really) and you didn’t know that Lionel Shriver is a “ahe”?

  46. Maus

    [re=646816]zhubajie[/re]: “The idea that there would be no shops or restaurants or movie theaters if people got around via bikes and buses is pretty weird. How come all those libertarian entrepreneurs aren’t starting small businesses?”

    Lib’ruls hate minimalls, and the only type of restaurant or store in existence is chain/franchise. These guys really have no fucking clue what a small business owner and entrepreneur looks like.

  47. dijetlo

    Did it end with Bob coming up $50K short for Timmies new ticker so instead of healing him they sold the boy for parts?
    Or was that the kid in line ahead of them? New hearts don’t grow on trees, you know. This is a libertarian manifesto, I’m sure that Captain Saw was just following his enlightened self interest when he smothered the child for his kidneys and then claimed the boy died on the operating table so 50% off.

  48. President Beeblebrox

    All it needs is rough sex and a giant golden dollar sign and it’s another Ayn Rand novel.

  49. just pixels

    The libertarians should take a gander at Somalia for a taste of life without the jackboot of government. In a place like that everyone has an equal “shot” (ha ha) at success.

    But don’t take my word for it, ask the “Somolians” in Maynard Kentucky who inexplicably came to socialist U.S.A. to hack up chickens for our McNuggets.

  50. just pixels

    argue “about whether the family budget should be spent on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame or a weekend of Broadway shows.”

    I’m guessing the lesbian Hannah wants baseball while Mr. Smith has seen everything Nathan Lane was ever in. Makes me wonder where little Timmie came from.

  51. ocirats

    One Amazon reviewer (out of the whopping 7 who admitted to reading this book on that site) chuckled that the author named the public transportation system “Far Area Rapid Transportation.” Bit disappointed Greer’s review didn’t mention this stroke of comedy genius.

  52. Sparky McGruff

    [re=646696]Miss Kublik[/re]: Mel might do the picture, but you’ll have to blow him first. Because he deserves it. He’ll put you in a rose garden. He’s capable of it. You have no fucking soul.

    Honestly, it’s even better with kittens.

  53. Sparky McGruff

    [re=646794]Jesus Troubez[/re]: That’s a great point.. It’s not a good conservative book without rape. Particularly bear-on-underage-girl rape. That’s your super-sized combo pack of family values right there, you betcha.

  54. mustardman

    I can totally relate to this book. I live in that hellish place called Canada where we are subject to the horrors of universal coverage every day. My god make it stop. This not having to worry about buying insurance and being taken care of if I get sick. My god the horror of that!

    No wonder we drink so much beer and smoke so much weed. It’s reefer beer madness caused by our universal coverage!

  55. Tim

    [re=646790]Greer Mansfield[/re]: I like both the others OK as well, but the wingtards have so long been harping on them … I’m just cutting losses, is all.

  56. cshep

    I’m FROM Media, PA. It’s literally right outside of Philadelphia, and is extremely accessible by multiple forms of transit. Huge numbers of people CURRENTLY commute by train, and have for decades. That’s how every teenager gets into the city.

  57. comicbookguy

    [re=646809]The Lucky Wife[/re]: Especially since the cost to maintain a boat and hospital are pretty much directly related to energy costs, which in turn drive the costs of refining raw materials to the point of being seaworthy and medically safe, delivering them in the quantities needed every day, etc.

    Maybe the same people who run the hospital boat also run a rogue deepwater oil drilling platform and refinery because you know oil would be like $0.50 a barrel forever, if we only got these stupid liberal environmental regulations out of the way and let the free market work.

  58. S.Luggo

    Two small criticisms. The book would be far better if the hospital were also a mosque. And the patients were heaved out of bed several times each day to pray towards Martha’s Vineyard. Apart from that, it’s goddam Proust.

  59. marinmaven

    Commuting shares the first 5 letters with Communism. Draw lines seperating those first 5 letters and there you got your 5 columns. Don’t you SEE now?

  60. Kathryn.

    So the book is just a guy bringing someone to a boat to receive medical care in a tumultuous dystopian future? Sounds like Children of Men without the hot pregnant girl and the hot Clive Owen and everything else about the film that doesn’t suck.

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