4 out of 4 stars
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Final Notice by Van Fleisher isn’t a casual read. It’s not the sort of book you can peruse in spare moments and forget again until the next time you pick it up. Instead, Fleisher’s gripping and controversial novel is the type of book that makes you think- about politics, ethics, morals, and the effect of all on the state of society today.
Final Notice tells the story of a futuristic “sports watch.” The VitalTech2 is not your basic Fitbit. Created by doctor and fitness enthusiast Vijay Patel, the VT2’s standout feature is its noninvasive blood monitoring. The VT2 can give you instant, real-time feedback on your vital signs, hemoglobin, oxygen levels, and a number of other indicators that can predict and monitor even the most complex of health issues. And it can predict your death.
Vijay and his team believe that having a “Final Notice” of your impending death will give their customers a window of time to wrap up loose ends. They think that being able to gather documents and make final wishes known, not to mention saying their goodbyes, will let both the customers and their loved ones gain a sense of closure and peace surrounding their deaths. What they don’t realize is that some customers- perhaps triggered by turmoil in their life, mental instability, or anger about dying- will feel they have nothing to lose. These are the people that use the time between their "Final Notice" warning and their actual death as a window to wreak havoc, knowing they won’t be around to face the consequences.
As the VT2 watch is distributed to the public in small batches as field testing, more and more violent acts begin to occur. Coupled with the NRA’s newest movement to arm senior citizens, the Final Notice contributes to a perfect storm that results in multiple shootings. Told through news reports, through the loved ones left behind, or sometimes through the eyes of the shooters themselves, the stories illustrate what might just happen if a person is angry or confused enough, has access to a gun, and is told their time is almost up.
Connecting the threads of the various stories are Vince and Trudi, an active couple who are early in their retirement. They embody one of the themes of the novel: how senior citizens in the United States are viewed and are treated. Vince and Trudi are a pleasant, every-day couple and for most of their lives, they have never considered owning a gun. But through a series of events throughout the novel, their lives and their very opinions begin to change. Fleisher utilizes these characters to show what can happen in today’s society; how fear and powerlessness can lead to violence, and how your very morals can change when you or your loved ones feel threatened.
Vince, in particular, finds himself feeling a little redundant at this later stage in his life. No longer the fit and strong youth he once was, Vince is beginning to feel a loss of power. The NRA preys upon that helplessness by suggesting a way for the senior citizens of America to get that power back. By arming seniors, the NRA is providing a way to “level the playing field.” Ignoring the dangers that can come in to play when citizens of an older age (and the troubles that can come with age, such as dementia, weakness, shakiness, and loss of eyesight and reflexes) are suddenly given access to handguns, the NRA touts guns as a way of showing power. “Make your gun visible from time to time… to make the most impact,” one NRA executive suggests. In addition, the fictitious “Stand Your Ground” laws allow people to “brandish or even use their guns in public, in cars, or at home,” when feeling threatened. This, again, is another ingredient in a perfect recipe for disaster.
This is a very political novel, most obviously illustrated through the gun control aspect of the story. I found the idea of looser gun control laws as told in Final Notice to be terrifying. The idea that a group like senior citizens could be manipulated into gun ownership reveals the author’s view on the NRA’s agenda and a future that is possible in the United States. There is a lot of gun violence in this novel, but it is a reflection of the gun violence in America, as I felt any one of the “news stories” could have been plucked right from today’s headlines. This is a very polarizing issue today, and although there are a lot of people who probably would disagree with the author’s views, I found it to be a very real and raw illustration of what the United States could be in just a few years.
There are other political themes here as well. In addition to looking at gun laws, Fleisher also addresses another polarizing topic of today, immigration. Several characters in the story are immigrants from India, Syria, and Mexico. Although it was interesting to see how the author used these characters to demonstrate the “American Dream” at play, as well as the struggles immigrants can have with discrimination, there was already so much going on in this novel. It felt too much like the author was hitting all the hot topic buttons of today, and although I appreciated his views on the subject, I don’t think there was enough room in the novel for so many themes. There just wasn’t ample time to explore each one to the fullest.
Though this novel heavily stressed a lot of controversial political themes, Fleisher also addressed a lot of moral and ethical dilemmas. The issue that was the most explored was that of Vijay Patel, who created the “Final Notice” watch in the first place. Vijay’s intentions were pure when he created the feature, thinking only of how many people want their chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. He soon comes to realize that this technological advancement comes with a hefty price when people begin to kill. Vijay knows that his “Final Notice” feature can create a lot of good, not to mention that its uniqueness on the market will sell a lot of watches. But as the death counts mount, he has to wrestle with the moral implications of responsibility. Will the good outweigh the bad in this case? Also, will other competing markets put out their own versions of “Final Notice” soon anyway, now that the technology has been proven possible?
There is so much to think about when reading Final Notice. I found myself often putting the book down just to consider the possibilities. It may be set in the not-so-distant future, but all of these topics could easily be happening right now. Who knows what technology is looming that we aren’t aware of? How could it affect us? Where will all the controversies over gun laws in the US lead? In addition to being a very thought-provoking novel, I also enjoyed the characters and way
Fleisher gave us glimpses into different lives, and therefore, different perspectives on all the topics. It was a very well- written and well-developed story and I gave it 4 out of 4 stars.
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