Monday, August 20, 2012

Book Review: The Alphabet Challenge

Summer is in the home stretch; now’s a good time to kick back in the backyard or on the beach and indulge in some light reading.

The Alphabet Challenge by Olga Gardner Galvin
Photo source: ENC Press
Olga Gardner Galvin’s novel The Alphabet Challenge fits the bill admirably. Its depiction of mid-twenty-first-century Manhattan is both hilarious and touching. It’s a world where political correctness has run amok. Euphemisms have replaced all potentially offensive terms related to race, gender, or behavior. Smoking is confined to a single cube-shaped cement building (“Tobacco Road Smoking Area – proudly serving New York and New Jersey since 2015”). Children still argue with their parents about table manners well into their twenties (“Manners are a cultural concept.”)

Enter Howell Langston Toland. After completing a seven-year stint in prison for failing to recycle glass bottles, Howell starts the No Kinks escort service. As one of the characters explains it, “If you’re homsexu…I mean your-own-sex-centric, and chickenshit to tell your stuffy reactionary parents, you can bring someone of the opposite sex with you to fool them. And if you’re opposite-sex-centric but want to look more hip, you can rent someone your own sex to bring to a cool party with you. Works real good for everybody this way.”

Everybody except PeopleCare, the umbrella organization and source of government grants for hundred of anti-discrimination groups: Individuals of Different Abilities, People for the Right to Practice Voodoo, Androcentrically Focused Mature Male Individuals (formerly the North American Man-Boy Love Association), etc. Horrified by an agency that, not only “discourages people from being who they really are and proud of it,” but also makes a profit, PeopleCare sends a team of thugs (“People with Different Moral and Ethical Values”) to trash the No Kinks offices.

His business in ruins, Howell has a brainstorm: the real money is in the grievance industry. With help from his former in-laws Hazel and Filbert (get it?), he starts The Alphabet Challenge®. This organization is dedicated to restoring pride to those whose last names begin with the letters N through Z, who throughout history have suffered coming at the end of any alphabetical list. It’s time for the alphabetically challenged to be first. See Matthew 20:16.

The new cause is a huge success. PeopleCare is pissed. Not only is Howell horning in on its monopoly on compassion, but he’s doing it wrong. Still an entrepreneur at heart, Howell teaches his followers to stand up for themselves instead of waiting for help from a government program. The battle lines are drawn.

The strongest point of the The Alphabet Challenge is definitely its endearing characters. My favorite is Loveridge Weatherstonehaugh. The perfect liberal nitwit, Loveridge “came from money so old it had been all squandered away even before her mother was born.” A documentary filmmaker with many awards but, thanks to the “uninformed public,” little commercial success, she swings between congratulating herself on her strong opinions and living in terror that someone might consider her judgmental. And yet her story takes a surprising turn at the end.

I was also partial to Mikey, the head of a group that PeopleCare wanted to call “Individuals of Alternative Wisdom.” Mikey would have none of it; he insisted on “Just Plain Stoopid.”

The Alphabet Challenge is available from ENC Press, publisher of fun libertarian satires like Mean Martin Manning and Junk, as well as a recent translation of “the first dystopia ever,” Yevgheniy Zamyatin’s We. ENC’s books may be purchased at

Michael Isenberg is the author of Full Asylum, a novel about politics, freedom, and hospital gowns. Check it out on

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