Small worlds: A satire of totalitarian impulses

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University of New Brunswick


Small Worlds is a dystopian political satire that blurs boundaries related to identity and ideology. The novel deploys techniques such as exaggeration and the grotesque to imagine and overperform examples of gaslighting and purity politics, emphasizing how confusion and purism drive rhetoric within actually existing neoliberalism. The novel draws from satire’s boundary-effacing modes of representation and the New Sincerity’s interrogation of interpersonal communication to explore how individuals can navigate a political arena rife with misinformation and “us versus them” discourses. In Small World’s near-future world, a totalitarian regime has taken over the newly established transnational state of America America (a merger of Canada and America) by exercising gaslighting and purity politics to extreme degrees. The Party, under the leadership of Prince Albert, Prince of the America Americas (also known as PAPAA), enforces newly-envisioned forms of law and security, public and private space, and economic dependency. In this world, Maxwell and others struggle to make ends meet no matter how hard they work. Maxwell eventually creates a literary project that reframes and rewrites old novels to align literary works with The Party’s ideology, which rewards him with upward mobility for the first time in his life. At the same time, he meets members of a resistance group who promise him answers to questions from his childhood if he joins their cause. Thus, Maxwell becomes torn between succeeding in the status quo or pursuing a path that would set him against the all-powerful Party and risk his personal safety. The novel explores how individuals can be physically, emotionally, and intellectually coerced or swayed into complicity and/or complacency with systemic inequality. Small Worlds thereby interrogates how authoritarian political discourses and ideologies permeate and disrupt our personal identities and relationships; ultimately, it advocates for greater fluidity, plurality, and sympathy within both our political constructs and our interpersonal relations.