KPU Instructor Examines Lies and Paranoia in New Novel

'The Innocence Treatment' has been selected as this year’s novel for the “KPU Reads” reading series

KPU professor and author Ari Goelman answers questions about his novel ‘The Innocence Treatment’ at KPU Reads on Jan 22. (Joseph Keller)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University business and criminology professor Ari Goelman’s second novel, The Innocence Treatment, is the latest to be featured as part of the annual KPU Reads series. The book, which hit shelves in October, is a work of young adult dystopian science fiction that explores themes of paranoia, lies, and critical thought.

In an event on the KPU surrey campus library, Goelman read from his book and took questions from students on Jan. 22.

“It’s always fun doing readings, and what I teach at Kwantlen is not creative writing. I teach research methods and statistics and all sorts of things I really enjoy teaching, but this will be the first time I do anything writing-related at KPU,” says Goelman. “So that’s exciting to me.”

The Innocence Treatment is set in the near future and follows Lauren, a 16-year-old girl born with an extremely rare cognitive disability that inhibits critical thinking. Her condition makes it impossible for her to tell when people are joking or lying, so she believes that everyone she meets is her friend and that everyone has good intentions. As the story opens, Lauren is about to undergo an experimental surgery to correct the disability and give her a chance to live normally.

The novel reads as a series of journal entries and interview transcripts from various time periods before and after the procedure. Its back-and-forth structure highlights Lauren’s transformation from a naive and carefree girl to an extremely paranoid individual dismayed by the dystopian world in which she lives.

“Some of the fun of the book—as you go back and forth between her journal entries and you see her grow much more cynical and much more knowing about the world, and then you see her maybe veer into paranoia—is trying to figure out how much is paranoia and how much is the dystopian world,” says Goelman.

While he says that he’s not trying to make any sort of political statement with the book, Goelman acknowledges that some of the themes of The Innocence Treatment are highly relevant today. Its exploration of dystopian society takes on a deeper meaning now, when propaganda and public deception are pervasive parts of popular discourse.

“I guess all literature does have some greater meaning to the world, and especially now, when we live in this world of ‘fake news’ and a U.S. President who tells a lot of lies, I think it’s a really interesting parable for today to think about what it means to not know when people are lying,” says Goelman. “It’s a really interesting time to think about lies and truth and how we know reality.”

The ideas in The Innocence Treatment do relate to the content that Goelman teaches at KPU. He explains that the courses he teaches are fundamentally about learning to make sense of the world, critical thinking, and “turning data into meaning.”

“A book with a main character who starts out not being able to make that meaning at all, and ends up making maybe too much meaning or just the right amount, is central to the same ideas of ‘How do we make sense of the world?” says Goelman. “I think one of the important things students get, not just out of my classes but from university ideally, is just critical thinking.”