Snowball’s Chance by John Reed

snowballs chance (1)All animals are born equal–what they become is their own affair.

So states the new law on Manor Farm, once Napoleon and his ilk have died off and Snowball has returned, bringing with him the new religion of capitalism and market economies in John Reed’s satirical sequel to George Orwell’s famous parable/novel Animal Farm.

For the most part, at least for the first half of the book, Snowball’s Chance is an entertaining, thought provoking read.  The second half is mostly just provoking.  After returning from his exile, which took place just before things started to go very bad in Animal Farm, Snowball brings along changes few animals, or people, would object to.  The introduction of modern technology, especially modern medicine, improve the lives of all the animals on the farm, even save the lives of some.  But as things progress, as one would expect, the situation begins to deteriorate for all but a select few animals.

I began reading Snowball’s Chance expecting a critique of capitalism, since it is the opposite of Orwell’s general target in Animal Farm.  I suppose I should have expected a particular critique of American capitalism, too, since that is generally the opposite of Soviet Communism.  But as John Reed’s book got more and more particular in it’s critique of American history, I felt it began to lose much of it’s punch.  It began to feel like an author grinding his axes rather than a story making a point organically.

While the situation on Manor Farm deteriorated to the point of chaos in Animal Farm, it always felt like a natural progression, at least once Snowball was removed from the picture.  The more I came to understand both Animal Farm and the history of the Soviet Union over time, the more I came to appreciate Orwell’s book as a particular critique of Stalin and Stalinism.

John Reed’s target seems to be America and American history.  In spite of having such a big target, or perhaps because his target is so big, he begins to miss the mark by the end of the novel.  There are plenty of things wrong with capitalism and with American capitalism in particular, but Reed overreaches when he places the blame for the World Trade Center attacks on America.  I subscribe to the belief that crime victims are never to blame, and to the belief that the World Trade Center attacks were a crime.

That’s a very particular issue I have with Snowball’s Chance.  My more general issue with the book is harder for me to pin down.  While Manor Farm in Orwell’s book spins out of control towards the end, the novel never does.  By reaching at so many targets, Snowball’s Chance loses focus, and much of its bite, by the novel’s end.

That said, there are many good points to the novel, and I would love to have the chance to dig into it with a book club or a class of over achievers. There’s also this wonderful bit in the middle of the book about dogs…

The main dog character hears that his wife and children have been killed by a neighboring farmer he himself escaped from.  He says that he will see them on the moon.  A nearby animal explains to his companions that dogs believe they go to the moon when they die.  That’s why the always howl at the moon.

I really like that.  Dogs howling at the moon, sending a lonely greeting to departed friends.

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