The American Dream
By Mickey Z.
05 January, 2007
I read Mike Palecek's latest
novel, "The American Dream," as I traveled to visit family.
The experience of enduring both airport security (sic) and the sanitized
airplane environment served an appropriately eerie backdrop for a book
like this. No more than a few degrees from what currently passes for
reality, "The American Dream" is a societal vision that hits
too close to home(land) to be called a futuristic satire. Channeling
both Orwell and Bill Hicks (with perhaps a touch of Chuck Palahniuk),
Palecek has created more than a powerful and engaging novel; he has
let loose a global wake-up call.
At first glance, Palecek hardly fits the "global wake-up call"
profile. "I started out what some might call a good American,"
he says. "I grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska, home of Johnny Carson,
watching his show on TV, playing football, baseball, driving a '56 Chevy
station wagon." From there, Palecek's restlessness led him to a
monastery in Oregon, the diocesan seminary for the archdiocese of Omaha
in Saint Paul, a life-changing meeting with Fr. Dan Berrigan, and getting
arrested at Offutt Air Force Base, outside of Omaha.
"It was maybe 1980 or '81," Palacek says of his first arrest.
"I remember it raining. I sat down and cried. It was just this
overwhelming feeling that I wasn't part of America anymore and even
though I had to do it, I was going to miss it."
I interviewed Mike via e-mail during the first week of January 2007.
Mickey Z.: What does the phrase "American Dream"
mean to you?
Mike Palecek: When I started to write this, what I
was thinking of was "dream" as in sleeping dream. The possibility
that so much of what we think of as our reality might be false. That
is, a lot of the "conspiracy theory" stuff, which I find fascinating.
They have places for people who think like this: either a mental institution
in Iowa or in the middle of a subway station in New York City, screaming,
handing out leaflets.
MZ: So, what comes to mind when you hear "American
MP: I have begun to see that there are other takes
on the "American Dream" thing. We really do pursue the American
dream every day - the home, the kids, the job, the security. It's why
my wife and I came here to Iowa from an Omaha resistance community after
the last time I got out of jail. We wanted a nice place for the kids.
And now I find myself trying to educate the kids about all the anti-war
stuff - trying to radicalize them, trying to have it both ways. Well,
the idea that having or pursuing this American dream when other dads
and moms and kids are living in poverty or under our bombs is obscene.
And finally, I see the American dream in the sense of a carrot and stick;
that the wage of a laborer has dropped over the past decades and the
wages of the bosses has risen dramatically, also that corporations exploit
foreign labor for even more profit. Well, we still pursue that dream,
pile on more jobs, drive faster to pick up the kids, cook faster, drink
more, whatever it takes to keep pursuing that carrot, even though we're
never going to reach it.
MZ: How did your perception of the American Dream shape
and/or impact the writing of your latest novel?
MP: While I was writing this book, I was working in
a town not far from here, about twenty miles, very small, very conservative,
Dutch Reformed, and each day as I came to work I thought about the book,
over this past summer, and I wrote the book to fight. To fight against
this culture I live in, to fight Bush, to fight the "support the
troops" mantra. Even as I envision a "good" future for
my children, and even as I sit right now in relative comfort in the
middle of America, I see America as an enemy, the America of my neighbors,
my extended family. I see George W. Bush as an enemy. I fight now against
America, not because I believe in any other country or ideology, but
because I believe in working for the poor, for peace.
MZ: With the novel as your current weapon of choice?
MP: I could pick up a gun. Maybe I'm too lazy. I really
don't think I could live with killing somebody. That would really ruin
my day. And writing a novel is such a poor excuse for fighting, in some
ways, so abstract, but it is a way, and it is a way that maybe I can
handle, can do, and maybe it will do some good, some day.
(To order "The American Dream," please visit: http://www.cwgpress.com)
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.
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