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James Adcox’s novel Love Does Not is many things; a dystopian fantasy, a biting satire, a tale about the perversity of love. Yet it is also a scathing social commentary about the state of privacy in the world today — and in America in particular — in the wake of the burgeoning War on Terror. Beneath the undercurrent of sex, intrigue, and murder, lies a pervasive sense of espionage and an abandonment of the right of individuals to enjoy basic civil liberties such as privacy. When interpreted with this perspective, the novel is one in which characters and scenes are carefully constructed to illustrate the gradual eroding of the very laws that were initially formed to guarantee autonomy and an egalitarian, republican state as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. There are a number of salient similarities between these characters and situations and those that have arisen in the wake of the Patriot Act, as a careful read of Adcox’s novel and scrutiny of external sources proves.
The Patriot Act was created shortly after the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and an airplane bound for San Francisco in 2001. It was designed to monitor the activities of purported terrorists and those who were, conceivably, assisting them. In order to accomplish this objective, the act allows governmental scrutiny of a number of aspects of a person’s behavior and patterns of communication including internet usage and emails, telephone calls and records, and activity related to library accounts. One of the most prominent ways in which Adcox conveys to the reader that his novel parallels situations that actually occur in real life after the passing of the Patriot Act is by showing the monitoring of people’s behavior at the library. One of the main characters in this work, Viola, is employed at the library in a city in which there is a rash of murders involving employees at a major pharmaceutical company. It is highly significant, then, that her library attracts the attention of a federal agent who is monitoring the activities of people there in person. The significance of this fact is not lost on the prudent reader. In reality, federal entities such as the FBI literally monitor the habits and activities of people at the library in a quest to understand what sources they are accessing and what sort of information they are getting. This sort of monitoring is predominately electronic. This concept is demonstrated figuratively in Adcox’s work, however, by his deployment of an FBI agent to physically monitor the habits and behavior of those in the library in which Viola works. She is not liberty to discuss his presence (Adcox 83) Therefore, the creation of this generic, nameless FIB agent is the personification of the actual sort of surveillance that the federal government conducts in real life, outside of the novel.
Nonetheless, the fact that Viola happens to work at a library that is monitored by a federal agent is far from coincidental. After the Patriot Act was passed, some of the most vociferous opposition it faced regarding its perceived impingement of civil liberties came from those who were concerned about the ramifications of the act as implemented in the library (Matz 69). This fact was demonstrated most saliently with the initial difficulty in effecting section 215. In the wake of this portion of the act, which extended federal powers of surveillance to include the records and activities of those patronizing libraries, “Librarians…vigorously protested the federal government’s challenge to their professional ethics and patron’ privacy” (Matz 69). This particular example of resistance to the Patriot Act obviously resonated with Adcox, who knew that by having one of his main characters employed at a library monitored in person by a federal agent that he was writing about a subject that was extremely controversial to Americans subject to the Patriot Act.
It is prudent to mention the fact that there is a substantial amount of comedy in this work of Adcox’s which, when considered with the novel’s overarching themes about privacy and its transgression, reads like a satire in many places. One of the most prominent examples of this fact is the he author’s usage of the FBI Agent and his interaction with Viola, who works at the library. Satires find points of humor and levity in human folly. As such, Adcox’s rendering of the FBI agent as the personification for actual federal tendencies facilitated by the Patriot Act takes on even more significance. Generally, such federal entities attempt to monitor the activities of the general public — the customers at the library. The agent in Adcox’s novel, however, goes a step further by vigorously monitoring the activities and behaviors of the employees, as well. This fact is both a satirical point of humor and a crucial facet of the plot the author is building in regards to its relationship to his theme. Viola incurs the attention of this federal worker in her professional life. Additionally, she also receives attention from this person in her personal life, which extends the degree of monitoring that the government is capable of from not only professional activities that may endanger the safety of the country, but also to personal activities that seemingly have no bearing on the safety of the country. Indeed, the blurring of such forms of monitoring is the entire reason that there is debate and fear of the Patriot Act.
One can argue that the effects of the satirical nature of the federal surveillance that Viola is subjected to are almost as absurd, and perhaps even as noteworthy, as the methods of surveillance itself. It is highly significant that under the pressure of the nearly constant scrutiny of the FBI Agent, Viola actually gives in to him in the form of an illicit affair. Why she does so, and the ramifications of doing so are worthy of study. The librarian is at a point in her marriage in which she finds herself emotionally estranged from her husband. She is struggling to reclaim some of the passion and feeling that was once in her marriage in the form of sadomasochistic sex. As he struggles with these new obligations, further distancing himself from Viola, she is all but sure that she can gain violence, mystery and satisfaction, ultimately, from the Agent. Perhaps it is because the author is suggesting that there is something innately noxious about the sort of constant scrutiny to which the Patriot Act can subject Americans. The critical point is that Viola not only becomes acclimated to the constant surveillance she is under, but she also embraces it/the Agent — quite literally. She begins sleeping with him which takes the level of surveillance that the agent can conduct (which also implies the degree of surveillance the government can conduct under this act) to an extremely personal level. The effect, of course, is truly disturbing for Viola. On the one hand she gains satisfaction from the sort of sex she now desires. However, she also is willing to give up almost her entire life to him or to recording of the government.
The degree to which Viola submits to the sort of federal surveillance conducted at the library helps to personify one of the worst fears about the Patriot Act — its invasion of privacy. Privacy takes on particular significance when applied to the library and the nature of the relationship between patrons and those working there. According to Matz (2011), “The relationship between librarians and patrons is similar to attorney/client or doctor/patient…in that the accord can only work when there is trust between the professional and the person seeking assistance” (72). Surveillance effectively obliterates that trust and the implied privacy. How much more it does so, then, when that third party surveillance transcends the mere monitoring of a public place and begins to conduct equally accurate surveillance in the private lives of a citizen? In Adcox’s novel, the FBI Agent begins to copiously and dutifully record his sexual interactions with Viola. The significance of such an occurrence is fairly clear. There is no part of a person’s life that the federal government does not want to monitor, or that any individual under such surveillance is able to escape. Again, the reader must recollect that Adcox is essentially writing a satire, so his extreme examples are based on real concepts and human folly. It is noteworthy, then, that Viola begins to associate the camera with which her sexual interactions are recorded with the face of the Agent. In some ways, his face, the face of the camera, is all she really knows about him, since he remains nameless to better signify the nameless spies that the agency has at its disposal and targeted against its citizens with the Patriot Act.
While some of the satirical aspects of Adcox’s novel may seem far-fetched, it is important to realize that the concerns the author is personifying in his novel…