MADISON, Wis., September 15, 2013 — Olsen’s Nation is a parody on steroids. At every turn, author Randy Quarles mercilessly lampoons the Obama administration.
His fictional president’s name is Bodvar Olsen. There’s also CACA (the “Cheap and Accessible Care Act”), WHOT (the “White House Office of Truth”), and countless other acronyms characteristic of the American executive branch since FDR. Small drinking glasses are pejoratively referred to as “Bloombergs.”
Olsen’s Nation offers a humorous but serious look into the potential side effects of Obamacare. It chronicles seven misfit individuals with one thing in common — a need to see the doctor. But there’s a problem.
Unintended consequences of President Olsen’s Cheap and Affordable Care Act have created a healthcare industry entirely devoid of efficiency. Reminiscent of the socialist healthcare systems of Europe, scarce medical procedures are now allocated by central planning agencies — in this case, the Department of Universal Health and Life, or “DUHL.”
Needing a colonoscopy but unable to get it, libertarian-leaning Frank asks his neighbor Marvin, who works at DUHL, for help. After a series of escalating events, Frank dragoons Marvin into driving him and several others to Mexico to visit a new state-of-the-art medical tourist clinic.
Soon after they leave, the feds follow in hot pursuit. After all, the state doesn’t like one of its own employees cheating the system. Plus, Marvin technically commits fraud.
Quarles channels the late Ray Bradbury in a scene both disturbing and humorous. Only this time it’s not books being burned; it’s bacon being crisped. And the perfect temperature is, according to Marvin, 350 degrees Fahrenheit, not 451.
After the implementation of CACA, the federal Government (Quarles capitalizes the “G”) gets cocky. In an ostensible attempt to ensure the health of the population, the feds ban bacon, turning indulgence in salty pork fat into a criminal act.
In terms of character development, a turning point occurs about half way through the novel. Dolly, the young daughter of a Congressman and a fellow medical pilgrim, challenges Marvin to explain how he, an agent of DUHL, is responsible for her inability to receive treatment.
In his reply, Marvin effectively admits that government control of healthcare has been a failure. His own position inchoate at this point, Marvin nonetheless reveals his true self — just another individual who acquiesces in freedom. From then on, Marvin becomes less and less attached to his job and embraces many of Frank’s goals.
Throughout the story, Marvin’s best friend and closest ally is his pug, Lex. Like all the others, he is afflicted with mysterious health issues. Constant constipation, perhaps a symbol of the inefficacy of government bureaucracy, is Lex’s sickness du jour. The gang eventually drops him off at a veterinary clinic before crossing the border.
Much to everyone’s amazement, the dog receives quality medical care without any wait or red tape. Concerned about the future, the vet says, “In a few weeks, it won’t be so easy … for dogs, either.” Universal pet care is on the horizon.
In the real world, the trends of human healthcare versus pet will be interesting to observe over the next few years. A natural experiment providing useful empirical data may emerge.
Ultimately, the ending fails to climax in any meaningful dramatic way. Once the seven arrive in Mexico, all their problems fade away. In a rush, we learn that Marvin, who was portrayed as a fugitive for almost the entire novel, will have essentially no problem returning home. And Lex, an indispensible personality, more or less disappears as soon as the tension mounts.
Once a newspaper reporter, Quarles is now a practicing attorney, “much to the embarrassment of his family.” As a result, many of the novel’s pages are filled with (and occasionally bogged down by) nuanced legal arguments.
In perhaps the most personal passage in the book, Quarles reveals that at least four of the main characters hold law degrees, yet only one of them — a judge — uses it. Perhaps the underlying message is to avoid law school.
In the end, Quarles is unclear on one central theme. Should the government, a tyrannical usurper of individual liberty, be feared? Or should the government, a comically inefficient bumbling idiot, be laughed at? In addressing these questions, the novel seems contradictory: it takes both positions, often simultaneously. Perhaps that was exactly Quarles’s intention.
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