In Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow, Mitchell Zukor is completely obsessed with disaster of all kinds. This obsession causes his imagination to run wild, creating worst case scenarios out of every small fear that crosses his mind. This obsession with disaster is what gives Mitchell the anxiety that he has dealt with since he was a child. In my opinion, Mitchell’s character is not well established, as is evident in his personality’s transition from part 1 to part 2 of the novel. In part 1, Mitchell is constantly plagued with the fears his imagination brings, and he compares his anxiety to how it would feel to have “cockroaches feasting on him” (p. 20). He has panic attacks and becomes completely neurotic at these times. Then in part 2 of the novel a hurricane causes a massive flood in New York and Mitchell is stuck in the city to face what the reader would only assume, following his previous character development, is his biggest fear. However, Mitchell is predominantly brave, and even heroic, when he and Jane canoe past all the devastation and tragedy on every block. Even the narrator seems surprised by Mitchell’s resilience: “he was in no kind of physical shape, but as the day had progressed, he felt stronger,” (p. 193). Did his work at FutureWorld really change Mitchell’s personality this much?
I decided to go straight to the source and found a 5×15 Story that featured Nathaniel Rich, the author, to see if he could more clearly explain his intentions with Mitchell’s character. In the video, Rich discusses how he researched for the book and how most of the statistics and geography were true. The 80’s, 90’s, and today’s generations have been brought up to fear war, government spying, and natural disaster, and these issues surround us on social and news media. In just the past fifteen years, America has experienced several natural disasters and a memorable terrorist attack. Images from 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and Sandy were plastered over news media for months, and Americans were forced to accept that these terrible things can happen in their own country. Rich wanted to write about this obsession and fear, as well as obsession with fear. When researching, Rich claims that the more he learned about the disasters, the more he realized he couldn’t prevent them from happening. He became obsessed, just like his character Mitchell, and realized these types of events were out of his control and were statistically improbable. Obsession was a disease for Mitchell because of the anxiety it brought him. However, during the second part of the book, it was also a cure because his wild imagination had inoculated him to the point where he knew what to do and how to stay (mostly) calm in times of danger. This reasoning helped me make connections between part one and two of the novel, and was a sufficient justification for Mitchell’s seemingly out-of-character response to the hurricane/flood. I’m sure Rich will change Mitchell’s personality even more in part 3.
This is the link to the video of the 5X15 talk. When I heard and saw Rich, I was surprised at how similar he was to how I pictured Mitchell’s character. He brings comedy to the presentation by bluntly giving the facts and statistics, but he loses credibility (with me) when he doesn’t even know how to pronounce amygdala.
[vimeo 69157113 w=500 h=281]