Oval by Elvia Wilk
Written in 2019
Theme: Corrupt capitalism/ Inequality
“Anja, however, has bigger problems to worry about than a potential coverup or invasion of privacy. There’s also the titular Oval — or “O,” as it comes to be known — a new drug that claims to increase the user’s generosity, and developed in secret by none other than Anja’s boyfriend, Louis. Louis envisions O as the great solution to Berlin’s rampant inequality. Instead of relying on philanthropy or political activism to wrest change, Oval provides a massive dopamine rush every time the user performs an act of generosity, whether that’s dropping change in a beggar’s cup, buying a round of drinks for friends, or taking in a refugee. With enough people on O, Louis hopes to transform Berlin into a hub of charitable giving, with the city’s residents literally high on their own generosity. “Capitalism,” Louis explains knowingly. “It’s in the brain.”
“If much of Oval is given to picking apart the self-satisfied pretensions of tech culture, the book bares its teeth in its closing chapters, when Oval finally hits the streets — and backfires disastrously, driving the story to a fiery, apocalyptic finish. What Wilk exposes in these final pages, deftly, is not only the emptiness of “innovation” or “disruption” culture, but that a culture built around empty words can still result in very real, very devastating consequences.”
Theme: Bad Ideas may come for free but they cost us the world
Such dualities lie at the very heart of Oval: the way technology fosters a false sense of closeness; the way greenwashing disguises itself as environmentalism; the way abusive relationships masquerade as healthy ones, even to those in them. The way we grow inoculated to horror, reducing it to a punchline, a conspiracy, a clever marketing scheme.
Become sustainable/ sustainability in society
Zero waste housing, free, good for environment
House doesn’t work well
Struggling workers in society
Lack of Generosity and rising inequality
Theme: the exhaustion of trying to maintain your footing among the reality distortions of 21st-century companies
Theme: Internal Conflict
Anja is primarily concerned with the ruptures in her personal and professional lives. She’s apolitical and self-obsessed, so the reader doesn’t see much beyond her social scene.
Basic Introductions of story:
Oval: A biologist, Anja, living in some sort of weird community village thing that is run down in the future that is isolated from society gets mysteriously fired from her job and rehired by the company she worked for as a meaningless consultant the day before she was about to do a big experiment. Her boyfriend, also a consultant for this company, works on a secret drug called Oval that makes people high off of doing generous deeds. It ends with the collapse of Berlin with Anja living in Berg watching the society collapse.
Possible Thesis Statements:
While the main character of this story, Anja, is a symbol for white privilege and the ability to flee their problems in a way, her viewpoint makes the story more compelling because it allows for the reader to focus in on the reason why everything collapses rather than focusing on the people who are driving the collapse like Louis or Howard.
Quote: “Lately Louis had taken to venting about the superficiality of their social
world, his job, their lives in general. The consultants, the false friends, the
bottom-feeders, the assistants, the interns, the long lines to get into the clubs.
Everyone except Anja, though he never exactly said she was exempt.”
What does this quote mean?: She is the object of Loius’s venting, getting insight about what is going on in that sense with their society.
Main idea that the quote relates to: Anja as a central point of information that she compiles for the reader throughout the story.
Quote: “But if someone decides that our heating and cooling are unnatural, what’s next? Then someone will decide that clean water is fake, and then someone will decide that LEDs are fake, and then someone will say we can’t eat anything we don’t grow ourselves. Who actually decides these things?”
What does this quote mean?: This quote is saying that the reason for the collapsing society around us is because of the way decisions are made. She is saying that we can often follow leaders blindly and need to make decisions for ourselves without simply allowing others to make them for us. This is an interesting perspective because she isn’t blaming the leaders for making such decisions but instead is blaming the people who are allowing them to do so.
Main idea that the quote relates to: This main quote relates to corrupt capitalism
Quote: “Howard had, of course, been involved marginally in her job at RANDI, her
house—everything—for a long time. Finster was involved in all of it, and at
some point Howard had become her main interface with Finster’s back end.”
What does this quote mean?: Howard is her way of getting knowledge about the company she works for and how she finds out about what is going to happen to her.
Main idea that the quote relates to: She also uses Howard to gain information about what’s going on but Howard is a lot more about her work than her private life although they dated.
Quote: “they carried their trash down the mountain and disposed of it clandestinely in orange trash canisters on the street. At first Anja felt ashamed marching down the slope with a backpack loaded with a bundle of trash flattened against her laptop, but Louis reassured her that they were just doing what was expected of them: putting a good, clean face on sustainability. Eventually, bringing trash off the mountain seemed just as responsible as bringing trash onto it once had.”
What does this quote mean?: People make justifications for the reasonings. This quote shows how the characters are justifying how much waste they are using by saying how responsible they are. Cognitive dissonance denies the real problems that people create.
Main idea that the quote relates to: Gives the reader an interesting perspective that
Quote: “‘Generations turn over fast these days. You young kids and all your new
‘It’s true,’ said Dam. ‘They’re way ahead of us. Eric was just telling me
about this new app that I’ve never even heard of.’ He beamed at Eric.”
What does this quote mean?: Anja and her friends believe that they are no longer young and hip because technology is updating so fast that they are being left behind even though they are not that much older than the previous generation who lives with it.
Main idea that the quote relates to: Dam is Anja’s way of finding out what is hip and what is going on since he has connections to people who are more young and hip. He still goes out to party and hook up with younger guys so he has a more modern view of the world, even if she and Dam feel old from it.
Quote: “she couldn’t keep track of everything she used; trying to do so had led to an ontological breakdown on the microlevel of her daily life. Were eyelashes and skin cells on par with hair ties and coffee cups? Were paper coffee cups on par with a mug that had to be rewashed using graywater from the house, which cost energy to pump?…To reveal her confusion would be to reveal all, including her doubts.”
What does this quote mean?: Anja has a lot of internal conflict when she talks about her daily life. This quote is significant because she is beginning to realize that she contributes to the problems in the world around her.
Main idea that the quote relates to: Too much consumption, people like her contribute to the problems around her
Anja’s role in the story perfectly situates her to be the character to tell this story because she is the perfect character to know enough about what is happening without being too directly involved and is kept in the loop from different sources the entire story.
“Maybe charity is corrupt, maybe political activism is dead, but that doesn’t mean we have zero responsibility. It’s time to invent something better.”
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