54 pages 1 hour read

M. T. Anderson

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide


Landscape with Invisible Hand is a satirical dystopian science fiction novel by M. T. Anderson, written for a young adult audience. A diverse author, Anderson writes both fiction and nonfiction for people of all ages. In 2023, Landscape with Invisible Hand was adapted for film, reflecting the novel’s popularity and relevance. The book depicts a future world in which an alien species, the vuvv, have sold their technology to humans, causing the collapse of the human economy and subsequent extreme poverty on Earth. Adam Costello, who lives with his mother and sister, Nattie, fights against the wealth gap and extreme capitalism by expressing truth through his art. While he initially strives to fit into the new vuvv-ruled society, he realizes that the most logical means of improving his family’s circumstances is for them to leave their old lives behind and restart on society’s outskirts, where they can watch the proceedings from a distance.

This guide uses the Kindle version of Landscape with Invisible Hand published by Candlewick Press in 2017.

Content Warnings: The novel and this guide briefly discuss suicide. In addition, the novel uses offensive and discriminatory language, which the guide repeats only in direct quotations.

Plot Summary

Adam Costello lives in a small Rhode Island town with his family. A technologically advanced species, the vuvv, has invaded Earth and has sold its technology to humans. As a result of the invasion, the human economy collapsed, leaving much of the human population in extreme poverty on the planet’s surface, while the vuvv and the wealthy humans live in floating buildings. Technology has replaced most jobs, and Mr. and Mrs. Costello have lost their careers. Distraught over his unemployment, Mr. Costello abandoned his wife and children. Without him the Costello family finds a small source of income by renting part of their house to the Marsh family—Mr. Marsh, Chloe, and Hunter—and by Adam and Chloe’s participating in a reality television series depicting young love. While living together is exciting at first, it takes a toll on Chloe and Adam’s relationship. Exacerbating the growing divide between them, Adam has Merrick’s Disease, which results from contaminated city water and causes gastrointestinal distress. Although the vuvv have a cure, Adam’s medical insurance doesn’t cover the treatment, and his family can’t afford to pay.

Mr. Reilly, Adam’s art teacher and personal mentor, enters him in a vuvv-sponsored art contest. If Adam wins, he’ll receive a cash prize, and his artwork will be distributed through the vuvv’s interspecies alliance. Adam paints using both real paints and digital programs but favors the paint-and-canvas method. The vuvv assume that humans paint only still-life works because that was the popular art form when the vuvv first began watching humans. Adam paints landscapes, which Mr. Reilly feels will help him stand out from the other contestants.

Chloe and Adam’s relationship deteriorates. While they’re filming a date, she pulls him into an alley when a group of wealthy teens passes. Adam has a bout of uncontrollable diarrhea. Chloe snaps that she can’t pretend to be in love with him and admits that she’s dating Buddy Gui. Curious and jealous, Adam goes to Buddy’s house, where he finds Buddy working on chainsaw sculptures of crucified Buddhas, which he’s attempting to sell out of his garage. Afterward, Adam paints Buddy and his artwork and, in the process, sympathizes with Buddy, who’s merely trying to survive in the vuvv-oppressed world.

Adam and Chloe are summoned to meet with a vuvv, who tells them that the vuvv know the two aren’t in love. The vuvv argues that human love is forever and demands that the teens prove their love or pay back the viewers. Mr. Reilly arranges a meeting between Adam and Shirley, a vuvv involved in the art contest, so that Shirley can collect more samples of Adam’s work because he has passed to the next stage of the competition. Shirley wants to take Adam’s fantasy paintings, but Adam, after witnessing wealthy humans demeaning Mr. Reilly, decides to instead send his paintings that depict life as it is. Shortly after Adam sends his newer works, the Merrick’s Disease worsens; he develops ulcers, which rupture and cause a systemic infection. He has a high fever and experiences hallucinations and delusions. One night, he thinks he hallucinates his father returning, apologizing, and explaining that he’s opening a rug cleaning business.

In the morning, Mrs. Costello reveals that Mr. Costello did come to the house to steal her car and take some of his possessions. To help the family, young Nattie sells her stuffed animals, signifying an early loss of childhood. The vuvv sue Adam for pretending to be in love with Chloe. Trying to help her son, Mrs. Costello finds a free clinic and spends almost all the family’s funds taking Adam to get treatment for his infection. However, after they wait in line for four hours, a vuvv announces the clinic isn’t taking any more patients. Back at home, Mrs. Costello explains that their house is worth less on the current market than what they owe on it, so selling it won’t help their situation.

The vuvv select Adam as one of two teen artists from Rhode Island to attend the gala. Mrs. Costello forbids him from going because he’s still severely unwell. Pretending to go along with her decision, Adam asks her to watch a violent movie with him, and she falls asleep, allowing him to sneak away. While fetching his bike from the garage, Adam finds Hunter Marsh and some friends crawling and talking like vuvv.

On his way to the landing site, Adam crashes his bike and is picked up by a woman in a van. He tricks her into stopping near the landing site instead of the hospital by pretending he’s going to throw up. Adam makes it to the site and goes to the gala, where he’s repeatedly sick with diarrhea and experiences delusions. He confronts a girl, Lucy, who plays a dramatic piano melody rather than playing a 1950s song for the musical competition. The vuvv announce the winners of the musical competition and then the visual art competition. Before announcing the first-place winner, they call Adam’s name, and Adam has a delusion that he goes to the stage and delivers a provocative speech although, in reality, he remains sitting on the floor. They thank Adam for showing them the art of the winner: Buddy Gui. Adam collapses from severe infection, and the vuvv treat him and then leave him back on the ground.

The next morning, Adam tells his mother he has a new plan. He suggests that they abandon the house, which is in Mr. Costello’s name, and restart somewhere else. Mrs. Costello is briefly hesitant but soon sees the merit in the plan and agrees. She, Nattie, and Adam leave behind their life, starting over from nothing rather than trying to dig themselves out of massive debt. Mrs. Costello finds a job as a server, and Adam starts painting landscapes on commission.