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Organ Grinders

Organ Grinders

4.0 4
by Bill Fitzhugh

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Paul Symon is an environmentalist who's out to make the world a better place, but he's overwhelmed by too much disjointed information, too much public apathy, too much self-serving talk and not enough action. Not to mention the opposition of greedy despoiler Jerry Landis, a sucessful venture capitalist who is dying of a rare disease that accelerates the aging


Paul Symon is an environmentalist who's out to make the world a better place, but he's overwhelmed by too much disjointed information, too much public apathy, too much self-serving talk and not enough action. Not to mention the opposition of greedy despoiler Jerry Landis, a sucessful venture capitalist who is dying of a rare disease that accelerates the aging process. Landis cares about only two things: making even more money, and finding a way to arrest his medical condition. He'll go to any lengths to do either.

That brings Landis and his fortune to the wild frontier of biotechnology, where his people are illegally experimenting with cross-species organ transplantation in California while breeding genetically altered primates at a secret site in the piney woods of south central Mississippi. Not only is Paul on the trail of this clandestine research, but there's also an eco-terrorist on the loose, bent on teaching hard lessons to people who are under the impresion that the Earth and its creatures are theirs to destroy. These forces, together with 50,000 extra-large chacma baboons, collide in an explosion of laughter and wonder that Bill Fitzhugh's growing league of admirers is coming to recognize as his very own.

Editorial Reviews

Rocky Mountain News
If there's a lesson to be learned from Bill Fitzhugh's new comic novel, The Organ Grinders, it is "don't cut the author off in traffic." On the surface, it's a funny book that satirizes advances in biotechnology that threaten to disrupt human evolution. That is, unless they are beaten to the punch by greedy corporate executives bent on destroying the environment. But while the author makes fun of ineffectual activists and their apathetic public, most of the novel's characters seem the angriest when they're stuck in traffic.
The Organ Grinders is the story of Paul Symon, an environmentalist who has spent his whole life fighting a polluting corporate executive. He blames Jerry Landis, president of Xenotech, for his father's death in a bio-tech industrial accident. Meanwhile, Landis is suffering from a disease that causes him to age exponentially. He has charged his bio-tech company to raise baboons in order to ensure a supply of transplant organs so that he can live long enough for scientists to find a cure to his illness.
A parade of characters march through the book, each representing participants in the late-20th- century environmental morality play. There's the transplant procurement specialist who uses his degree in acting to convince grieving family members to donate organs. And an elderly woman who tells Paul, when he confronts her about using plastic grocery bags, that she doesn't care about the world her grandchildren will inherit. As in all good comic novels, the characters' lives intertwine in a satirical manner throughout the plot, culminating in an incredible scene at the baboon organ harvest in the backwoods of Mississippi that cannot be described without ruining the rest of the book.
Fitzhugh's humor prevents the story from becoming didactic. A good example is his description of a contentious meeting of a group of vegetarians, all arguing the merits of their particular diets. A brawl ensues, as a "rope-thin young man who was trying to stand up to make his point more forcefully," but who "didn't seem to have the strength," yells out: "Am I the only true vegan in the this room?"
Paul and his wife Georgette then observe "the official split between the lactovo-tolerant and the pure vegan factions of the Vegetarian Association of Central California." While not a laugh a minute, The Organ Grinders does clock in with a guffaw every 10. The author's willingness to make fun of people on both sides of the issue makes the book more interesting than if he had divided it solely into heroes and villains. Do you side with the corporate executive or the eco- terrorist who buries the exec in dirty diapers up to his neck in his own landfill?
The one constant theme of the book is the creeping effect of public apathy. People are so overwhelmed by the crushing weight of the world's environmental problems that they are too exhausted to object to the seemingly small acts of desecration, like watching someone throw a cigarette butt on the ground.
The cumulative effect of such pollution, however, only adds to a sense of hopelessness and continues the vicious cycle of apathy. Amid the hilarity, this seems to be the message of The Organ Grinders, second only to the admonition to avoid the author in traffic.
The Washington Post
"The Organ Grinders," Bill Fitzhugh's follow-up to the very fine, very funny "Pest Control," provides compelling evidence to counter the theory of the sophomore slump. Fitzhugh is in fine comic form and zanier than ever. For those who missed his story of Bob Dillon, the hapless exterminator-hero whose advertisement for his eco-friendly extermination services landed himon the Top 10 list of the world's greatest assassins (of people, not bugs), "The Organ Grinders" is a great chance to catch a glimpse of a truly uniqueand talented young writer.
Like Dillon before him, Paul Symon is a man who "just wanted to make the world a better place." As such, he is a perfect comic straight man for Fitzhugh, who sets up the plot tensions immediately with a wonderful flashback scene of a young Paul, age 15, presenting his environmentally conscious school paper to Jerry Landis. Landis is the president of Landaq Corp., [a loose affiliation] of "millionaires and billionaires" who have joined to form a shady biotech firm responsible for some of the most egregious violations of Mother Earth imaginable.
Paul's paper is ignored entirely by Landis, and, when Landis's cost-cutting indirectly kills Paul's father, a researcher for one of Landaq's sister companies, the boy's mission in life becomes clear: (1) save the environment from greedy, reckless humans, and (2) bring about the downfall of Jerry Landis and his toxic corporation. That success in the second ensures success in the first is serendipity of the highest sort. Paul has a goal and a motive, and now all he needs is opportunity.
That opportunity arises early in the novel via some entirely unlikely (often bizarre) events. To go into specifics here would require a dissertation on the particulars of Werner's syndrome, the U.S. laws governing organ donation, the genetic engineering of oversize baboons, the Malthusian theory of diminishing natural resources, the psychology of methamphetamine-fueled bikers and wisecracking paraplegic heart-transplant patients, as well as the screenwriting aspirations of anorgan procurement specialist who is not afraid to cut a few corners to become the next Robert Towne. Frankly, the plot is ludicrous. But trust me, in Bill Fitzhugh's hands that is a good thing.
Fitzhugh's strongest suits as a writer are his diligent research, sharply drawn supporting characters and fearless sense of humor. In "Pest Control," Fitzhugh cited more insect genuses than Peterson's guide, lending the book absolute credibility. Here he dives even further into his subject matter, dropping scientific terms with an ease to match Michael Crichton but offering readers the bonus of a plot and characters! Fitzhugh's revelation of his many sources makes it a bit easier to see how the author plies his craft.
It is Fitzhugh's remarkable sense of humor, though, that is the real reason to rush out and pick up a copy of "The Organ Grinders." Slapstick of Keatonian proportions meshes with witty lyric-play ("There must be 50 ways to lose your liver") and a solid grasp of the absurd (testicle-grafting surgery, enough said) to form a laugh-out-loud read. All kidding, or at least most kidding, aside, Fitzhugh is a young writer whose sense of humor masks his deeper motives. He admires his earnest, well-meaning protagonists and is rooting for them every step of the way. His wit and style are as compelling as his tightly wound thriller plots, and his thoughts on the world we live in are fascinating and, often, spot on.
On finishing the book, I found myself wrestling with the notion of exactly how its utterly unlikely premise ever made it into print. Thank God it did, but, really, baboons and heart transplants as the backbone for a comedic eco-thriller? And then I popped my well-worn copy of Paul Simon's "Graceland" in the old Sony and turned the volume up loud. Soon I was singing along and having a great time while simultaneously contemplating the precarious state of our world. So with gusto now: "Medicine is magical, and magical is art/ Think of the boy in the bubble and the baby with the baboon heart. And I believe . . ." That's what Bill Fitzhugh has done, and the result is an awe-inspiring feat.
Library Journal
If there's anybody currently working hard at resuscitating the art of political incorrectness, it's Fitzhugh, first in Pest Control (LJ 3/1/97) and now in The Organ Grinders. Jerry Landis, the driving force behind the pharmaceutical concern Landaq, plots to use baboon organs to fill the demand for human hearts, lungs, and tissue. Aiding him is Arty, whose discovery of his own rapid-healing ability has led him (for a price) to the head of the organ donor line, leaving him at this point little more than a human stump in a motorized wheelchair. Pitted somewhat unevenly against them are Paul Symon and his wife, Georgette, the kind of people you always see at tables in supermarkets dutifully and ineffectively gathering signatures on petitions for good causes. These cartoonish players acting out their parts lead to some laugh-out-loud incidents that at times alarmingly mirror today's TV news. It all goes to prove that it's not easy for a satirist to stay on top of his game nowadays, when it's nearly impossible to separate fact from fiction. Suitable for most public libraries and apt to be fairly popular among audiences for uninhibited humor.--Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO
“If Michael Crichton and Carl Hiaasen collaborated...the result might look a lot like this very bizarre novel.”
“… laugh-out-loud funny... Fitzhugh melds deadly seriousness and satire to keep the customer satisfied.”
Washington Post
“His wit and style are as compelling as his tightly wound thriller plots…the result is an awe-inspiring feat.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

There is evidence that Hindu surgeons may have performed tissue transplants 2,600 years ago.

Chapter One

San Mateo County, California, March 1975

Paul had big butterflies in his stomach. He was nervous because he was on his way to meet with Mr. Jerry Landis. The Mr. Jerry Landis, one of the most important men in the country, according to every business magazine Paul had read. And since other important men had a hard time getting an appointment with Mr. Landis, everybody was impressed that Paul had been granted an audience with him -- especially since Paul was just fifteen years old.

He was sitting in the back of the bus looking at the blood on his finger. Paul chewed his nails whenever he was anxious, and this time he had torn one below the cuticle, drawing a crimson reminder of his apprehension. Paul took a deep breath and tried to relax, but he would need more than air to settle his nerves today. He was delivering an important document to Mr. Landis and he prayed it would make a difference. Paul just wanted to make the world a better place.

The reason Paul had been invited to meet with Mr. Landis in the first place was a civics class project designed to demonstrate the power and importance of a participatory democracy. The project involved writing a letter to someone in a position to influence government or corporate policy. Some of Paul's classmates wrote to city council members; others wrote to senators or representatives. But Paul wrote to Mr. Landis because of something he had read about in the newspaper, something called the Landaq Sierra Nevada Development Project.

According to the newspaper,Landaq had recently purchased a vast tract of land in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, a pristine wilderness area where Paul had attended summer camp as a child. Paul still felt the wondrous charge of emotion he'd experienced when he first saw that land. The stunning granite peaks painted with corn lilies and Indian rhubarb were still vivid in his eyes. He had waded in the clear creeks lined with grass hummocks, bushy splashes of green and bright yellow. He could still smell the sugar and ponderosa pines that dusted the cool lakes with patterns of pollen while mergansers paddled noiselessly about. The dogwoods that bloomed fragrant next to maple and cottonwood alive with noisy squirrels and Stellar's jays had somehow gotten into his blood. And the giant sequoia -- awesome, ancient, and primeval -- had moved his young soul. This land so inspired awe that it must have been created, as John Muir wrote, by tender snowflakes noiselessly falling through unnumbered centuries. It was the world the way it should be, Paul thought.

But Jerry Landis thought it could be improved. Or, as Landaq's press release said, "developed." The newspaper article quoted Jerry Landis: "Landaq merely intends to capitalize on some of the area's natural resources." And Paul knew that meant the land would be destroyed. Paul had read that Jerry Landis supported politicians who helped open national forests to logging, who moved aggressively to scale back clean water programs, and who referred to the Environmental Protection Agency as "the Gestapo of government." Whenever Jerry Landis "developed" a wilderness area, he strip-mined mountainsides, or clear-cut old growth forests, or drilled and spilled crude oil, or dumped toxic wastes, or all of the above.

And his shareholders didn't care one whit. just so Jerry Landis increased dividends.

But Paul wasn't interested in that sort of return. Paul wanted this small part of the world -- his Eden -- to remain as it was. He didn't want to see it destroyed, So he wrote to Mr. Landis and asked him to reconsider. Paul said he would write a plan suggesting alternative uses for the land. A few weeks later Paul received an invitation to meet with Mr. Landis to discuss his ideas. Paul threw himself into the project. He stopped playing with his friends after school. Instead he stayed at the library until it closed. He stopped watching television, except for Chico and the Man and Hawaii Five-0. He spent ungodly hours researching and learning and writing about his subject. He started using terms like "aquifer water volume" and "forest biomass density." And after two months of grueling work, Paul had completed his proposal.

And now he found himself sitting in the back of a city bus going from Atherton to Menlo Park. The bus driver had forced Paul to pay full fare because he looked older than fifteen. Paul was big for his age. His classmates teased him, not terribly, but enough that it hurt. Something about Paul's looks -- half adult, half kid -- kept him from being in any of the cliques. He was big and awkward, no longer a cute boy but not yet the handsome young man be would become.

Sitting several rows ahead of Paul were a woman and her son. The woman looked tired, sad, and troubled. The boy was about Paul's age, and there was something terribly wrong with him. His eyes were strange, and Paul wondered what he saw through them. The boy made loud noises instead of words and periodically he screamed and hit himself. When his mother tried to restrain him, the boy would hit her too. The woman looked embarrassed and frightened every time this happened, and Paul felt sorry for both ofthem. Paul knew the last stop for this bus was the state hospital at Woodside. He imagined this overwhelmed and battered woman was taking her son there. She couldn't deal with it anymore.

Everyone else on the bus tried to ignore them, but Paul couldn't, it bothered him too much. It was so unfair, he thought, that someone could be that way through no fault of his own and that nothing could be done to help. Paul became angry when he heard people shrug this sort of thing off ...

The Organ Grinders. Copyright © by Bill Fitzhugh. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Bill Fitzhugh is the author of seven novels. He still has all of his original organs and plans to keep it that way until the very end, at which point he is willing to let the doctors divvy them up among anyone (with the exception of politicians) who might need them. However, he makes no promises about the quality of his liver. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and all of her organs.

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Organ Grinders 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
ghednli More than 1 year ago
Fitzhugh is gutsy and this hilarious read proves it. He grabs you by the balls (or ball in this case) and eviscerates you with clean surgical precision, leaving you disemboweled and begging for more! This book is cutting edge and wont disappoint if you have the GUTS the read it!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is exciting, entertaining, and an edge-of-your-seat thriller
Guest More than 1 year ago
Part of the problem about writing a novel with a medical/scientific/technical premise is knowing when to say when with the detail. WHEN!!!!! Oh Man! Toooooo many unnecessary facts... lots of pointless, complicated, tiring stuff we could do without and too many naive, implausible (and frustrating) scientific assumptions... In all fairness, some of this book was funny, some original, but a lot of the scenarios and characters were overly constructed... way over the top... too 'perfect'... just trying way too hard in general. The ecological doom stuff also tends to wear you down after the first few pages (imagine hundreds!). And never mind the underlying tone of aggression throughout this book... phew! If you can get past all that, I recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Along with his first book 'Pest Control', Bill Fitzhugh has made his mark with an extremely funny and original brand of writing. Can't wait for more.