They, Marya Mannes (1968)
Review by Andrew Pineo
The youth of the sixties, represented as the title of Marya Mannes’s They, has taken over America and passed an age segregation law for people over 50. This is related during rambling conversations of five people in their early sixties who are allowed by special exemption to share their isolation in an old beach house with a few pets, as recorded in the journal of the narrator, while they are waiting for the ultimately grim choice of self disposal or compulsory liquidation at age 65 by the Age Administration in this dystopia.
The narrator is Kate, a former writer/editor, who is clearly the author from the autobiographical details. The others are also associated with various arts. Lev, a major conductor; Joey, popular song writer for Broadway musicals; Barney, a painter; and Annie, his model/mistress. These well-drawn characters may represent Mannes’ friends, second husband or her relatives in the Damrosch family?
After the initial shock of isolation the group tries to strengthen and heighten their remaining functions by periodically depriving themselves of various faculties such as One Leg Day, Deaf Day or Blind Day, but that is abandoned. They end up spending the majority of their time griping about the values of the youth and their generation, as well as in introspection, with Kate detailing their conversations. The group ultimately lays the blame for their situation on themselves: “After all, age was never the object of veneration or admiration in America, even though we still remembered a time when respect in manners if not in mind was accorded it. And how could we seriously claim that our generation as a whole deserved it? Affluent as it was for the majority, the society we had produced was not admirable. It might be better than others, but it was nowhere near what is should have been. It was, in fact, going rotten.” This overwhelming indifferent acceptance of their situation is only addressed in one portion of dialog: Joey asks, in reference to the young, “What happens when They turn forty and fifty? What happens then, when They get the taste of age?” Lev replies, “They will revolt.” Barney adds, “Then why the fucking hell didn’t we? Why?” Nobody answered. This blasé feeling changes to fear as they continue to age and are required to get quarterly computer checkups.
Toward the end of the novel Mannes introduces a mute character who they call Michael “because he looked like the archangel”. Michael is never fully realized or has meaningful interaction with the group and eventually becomes a loose end.
In summary this foray into science fiction by a non-genre writer is insightful into the 60s youth, but may be disappointing to those expecting it to live up to the cover blurb, “More terrifying than Orwell’s 1984 – five outcasts in a future world where all that matters is sensation”. Perhaps the contents may be best summed up by the self criticism appearing in the prologue that this work is “…a clinical document testifying to… In spite of its occasional deceptive lucidity it is clearly the product of a disordered… mind”.