Strata Various
by Bruce Bentz
Writers' Branding

"[W]elcome to… our eclectic catchall of subjects that we hope to successfully patch together into a comfortable quilt of usable ideas."

Between jobs and at loose ends about his unraveling marriage, inventor/designer Adam Mann receives an offer from a government agent, Anna Forthright, to lead a workshop for government employees interested in developing a new approach to confronting civic problems of the day. Having read Adam's work, Anna believes he's the man to lead them forward. They plan a five-day workshop in DC. While successful in producing viable solutions, both for Adam and America, the workshop also presents new challenges.

As his name suggests, Adam is an everyman. He subsumes all characters. Like other workshop participants (except Adam), Anna takes a pseudonym, Eve, effectively becoming Adam's counterpart and not a character in her own right. No other participants are named. Their voices are indistinguishable as they participate in the workshop, blending in with the rest of Adam's narration and sounding like him. Adam's writings are the basis for group discussion. References to other books he assigns and references obscure the points they try to make if they are not familiar. Workshop participants understand and appreciate his allusions. Adam receives so many accolades for his work that he supersedes hero status and closes in on idol. His dominant personality wins his audience (the workshop miraculously grows by the end) but also serves as a necessary test of the book's effectiveness.

"Selected applicants will take part in a five-day discovery/exploration of 'what makes us tick' and how we might imagine 'ticking' better." The book fulfills the workshop's mandate. It "ticks" well in its flurry of quirky ideas and stories and the quickness of its sequences, although some humor comes across as adolescent. Adam and Anna's flirtations add an exciting ripple to the pragmatic, solution-focused plot. Adam's characteristic puns, wordplay, and humor compel, captivate, and show the sort of open-minded mentality conducive to problem-solving. Adam's farcical stories, inserted into the organized, blow-by-blow presentation of workshop events, distract and entertain without derailing their purpose. Distractions, Adam says, are meant to inspire fresh notions, and they do. Real problems of the present, such as gun violence, divorce rates, rape, climate change, immigration, and terrorism, are discussed via unconventional associations, like green apples. The book carries the workshop's ethos. Reading it results in getting swept up into Adam's unorthodox approach.

A theme of the workshop (and book) is putting oneself in others' (even enemies') shoes as a way of understanding a problem from multiple angles. Adam's singular negative letter of feedback measures how well he (and the book) plays out this rule. His dominant role in the novel works. He represents the idiosyncratic, outside-the-box way of life that poses a threat in today's political milieu. Gratifying to some, he also becomes the enemy to others and exemplifies a divided union. The serious escape-of-an-ending testifies to the dominance not of Adam but an ongoing culture war between calcified ideologies and new ideas. For all its fantastical fooling around, the conclusion suggests a realistic restart. "Strata Various" signifies a plethora of strategies that the book amusingly, if convolutedly, conveys in a timely picture of a real modern muddle requiring treatment of which only the kookiest minds are capable.

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