Twilight: The Broadcast

Posted by on February 16th, 2011 at 5:45 AM

Rob reviews The Broadcast, by Eric Hobbs & Noel Tuazon (NBM).

The Broadcast reminds me a bit of the old Rod Serling-penned Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street”.  Writer Eric Hobbs creates dramatic tension by focusing on a small Indiana town whose residents, like many in the USA, were fooled by Orson Wells’ broadcast of The War Of The Worlds in 1938.  In short order, the simmering fears and hatreds of this town were put on the front burner thanks to the feeling of helplessness and paranoia engendered by an announcement that an alien invader could be anywhere.  The Serling story was a thinly-veiled swipe at McCarthyism, as the members of the town took turns accusing each other of being the alien threat, while the real threat watched from afar, content that the dissension they created had taken root.  In The Broadcast, what Hobbs was getting at was not that style of paranoia, but rather the way that extreme circumstances can bring out the worst in people.

The character types will all seem pretty familiar, though Hobbs does his best to flesh them out and add a little unexpected depth to them.  Hobbs throws in class conflict, race conflict and even gender conflict while still trying to create memorable characters.  He’s not entirely successful, as the young lead couple (Gavin and Kim) seem undercooked: he’s a supportive farmer who’s best friends with his dad, and she’s a writer who’s defying her father.  There’s not much more to them then that, but they form the emotional core of the book and its conflicts.  On the other hand, Kim’s father is an interesting set of contradictions: he’s a rich man who saved the town but now essentially holds all its workers in indentured servitude; he’s a doting father who lost his sons to World War I and is in danger of alienating his daughter despite his wanting all the best for her; he’s dismissive of those less educated than him but is one of the few characters who isn’t casually racist.

It was clever of Hobbs to set the story in Indiana, home of the Ku Klux Klan.  The thread involving Marvin, an African-American worker in an otherwise white town, wound up binding the rest of the plot together.  His presence was a divisive element as the townsfolk were trying to determine who got to stay in the rich man’s cellar.  Marvin’s inadvertently killing two white men who had assaulted him was one of the key pieces that caused panic, since they were burned to death–much like the Martians’ flame-throwers in the radio play.  His status as an outsider led him to almost act as an instrument of death for the old man.  As we flashed back further to Marvin’s story, Hobbs was able to pull the strands of his plot taut.  I felt like the happy ending we eventually got strained credulity more than a little as everyone winds up healed, in all senses of the word.  Hobbs went out of his way to be forgiving of all his characters, being careful not to paint any of them with the villain brush.  The way the book ended, however, made it seem like their actions had no real, lasting negative consequences.

Tuazon’s scribbly, scratchy line is the book’s secret weapon.  He transforms what is otherwise a conventional narrative into a story viewed through a driving rainstorm or distorted sheet of glass.  Everyone is a little fuzzy and instinct, even as he has an uncanny way of providing just enough identifiers for the reader to quickly decode each scene and immediately understand what’s happening and who’s acting.  I’m usually not a huge fan of greyscaling, but Tuazon finds an ideal balance between light and dark.  Tuazon captures both the naturalism of the setting and its characters as well as the expressionistic nature of the human conflict.  In the hands of a lesser artist, The Broadcast might have been trite and too on-the-nose.  Thanks to Tuazon, it has a raw and visceral energy that raises the stakes for the reader.

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