By Bob Katz
To an event organizer, Bob Katz’s novel, Waiting For Al Gore, will read like a horror story, but for those worried about how we will organize ourselves in time to save the planet, this book might, just might, offer a glimmer of hope. In a remote corner of Vermont, EarthKare’s climate conference is only six days away, and the organizers, such as they are, haven’t a clue how many people are expected to attend and have not even ordered the porto-potties, and yet the story manages to promote the hope that humans will find a way to muddle through. Or to be more precise, the women will find a way. In this novel, men are usually just standing around pontificating, that is, when they’re not leering at the “ample” chests of the women, who are actually doing the work.
Rachel Seagrave is the female protagonist, “she of the heralded environmental cult bestseller.” She is the founder of EarthKare, yet doesn’t seem to identify with the “political-cultural fringe” of eco-activists that form the group. “The way Rachel saw it, she was simply a conscientious citizen determined to confront the plain truth about the fragile Earth that was terrifyingly impossible to ignore.” She confronts with her pen by writing the bestseller, and there is mention of a white paper on the green-washing of the Sierra Club. I’m guessing the “fringe” members are chaining themselves to buildings and holding protest signs, but even so, if EarthKare is meant to be like Extinction Rebellion, they’re a subdued bunch. I once dressed in black mourning clothes and joined Extinction Rebellion to grieve the oceans by helping to carry a coffin through a very crowded beach, to the ire of the beachgoers. I’m not so sure Rachel would have joined us. She is concerned that “the EarthKare approach,” whatever that entails, is seen as the “eccentric pastime of luddites and social outcasts.”
At any rate, she wants Al Gore to be their keynote speaker to move their message forward, so we have to assume, for the sake of the novel, that this message is radical and transformative. Since there is no money for a speaker’s fee, what’s in it for Gore? “He needs to win over grassroots activists like us.” Enter cynical reporter/blogger, Lenny Beibel, looking for the story that might make his name, especially if Al Gore actually shows up. Gore’s people won’t commit, but that’s enough to keep hope alive for the EarthKare organizers. Beibel feigns interest in the climate cause for the sake of his story and mating prospects, but he has long ago lost hope. “There’s not a frigging thing mankind can do at this late stage to forestall the wretched consequences of what we have wrought.” He is a man in need of a vision to turn him around, but instead of Al Gore, he gets a jogging messiah. It’s not nothing.
My favorite character is the Oswald’s thrush, a mythical bird that makes fleeting cameo appearances, instilling faith in a resilient Nature. If the Oswald’s thrush can survive, perhaps we can too. Waiting For Al Gore is an object lesson about the importance of trying, no matter how bumbling the attempt, to get something done to help turn the climate crisis around. The results might not be perfect, but there will be results, and every little thing, including some jogging, will help move the cause ahead.
JoeAnn Hart is the author of the novel Arroyo Circle, forthcoming from Green Writers Press in October 2024. Her most recent book is the prize-winning collection of short fiction, Highwire Act & Other Tales of Survival, from Black Lawrence Press. Other books include the novels Float, which swirls around conceptual art, bankruptcy, and plastics in the ocean, and Addled, a social satire. Her crime memoir is Stamford ’76, A True Story of Murder, Corruption, Race, and Feminism in the 1970s.