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The Inactivist

by Chris Eaton

The Inactivist, the new novel from Toronto writer, advertising worker, and musician Chris Eaton (who records under the name Rock Plaza Central) is the sort of book that will appeal to adolescent nihilists and self-consciously jaded zine readers. It’s a cynical, joyless jumble of ideas masquerading as cutting-edge satire and cultural criticism.

Kitchen is an advertising copywriter sinking into urban, postmodern torpor. He is burnt-out and jaded, diminished by his keen awareness of a world in which everything is for sale. Kitchen considers even the possibility of change beyond his control, deciding to actively do nothing (hence the novel’s title). His involvement with Gage, a vegetarian student with a social conscience, hints that there might be another possibility for Kitchen, but he fails to take her up on the opportunity, preferring instead to drag her into his ennui.

The Inactivist is a soulless exploration of soul-loss, a combination that, for obvious reasons, just doesn’t work. While the novel is rich in ideas (a toothpaste company takes out branding space in consumers’ mouths, while McDonalds resorts to bovine liposuction to provide tallow for their deep fryers), it’s hampered by an undergraduate cleverness. The standard countercultural bugaboos are all present and accounted for – from genetically engineered food to the World Trade Organization – but Eaton merely namechecks them, doing little to explore contemporary fears and malaise in a new or meaningful way.

Most significantly, Eaton loses sight of his characters and their fundamental humanity. Kitchen is a repellent protagonist, and most readers will find it difficult to stick with him through the entire novel. Without this firm emotional footing of rounded, human characters, The Inactivist lacks any force, taking on instead the tone of a too-loud television in a bar where no one is paying attention.