A debut satirical novel tells the story of a reporter investigating a deadly, mind-altering form of music.
Journalist Travus Dean—sporting a “ponytail, jeans, and Grateful Dead” lightning-bolt-through-the-skull T-shirt—returns from a year in Bali to learn that much has changed in his native San Francisco. The lefty magazine he writes for—the one he accidentally bankrupted via a libel suit brought on by one of his articles—is now owned by the right-wing Thorn Media. What’s more, ragers—fans of a new rock genre called Rage—are harassing people in the streets, starting fights with strangers, and vandalizing property: “The music produced a heightened state of violence, loss of societal control, and an imperviousness to pain. The ideal soldier.” The magazine wants Travus to cover the 2016 election, but the seasoned reporter sees something larger in the music: all of America’s multifaceted culture of rage concentrated and embodied in one explosive subculture. The story becomes personal when his high school protégé, Stephen Bishop, ends up beating a kid to death at a Rage concert, forcing Travus to really discover what’s behind this music. Is it a conspiracy? The government? Terrorism? And will Deadhead Travus be immune to the music’s power? Flounder writes in a direct, descriptive prose, wryly noting the signifying features of every setting and character. The book is simultaneously noirish and satirical, taking potshots at culture and politics while pursuing a genuine mystery concerning Rage’s source. Some readers may be initially turned off by Travus’ pat hippie self-righteousness (particularly since he’s a Gen-Xer): “As if we didn’t have enough rage spewing out of the United States of Anger, we need a music to create more?” While the references to Nineteen Eighty-Four and the George W. Bush administration feel dated in the current climate (Donald Trump rates only one mention), the plot itself is actually quite compelling once the reader bypasses the didactic snark. Flounder has created a distinctive world slightly more heightened and colorful than readers’ own, and the cliffhanger ending promises that further adventures with Travus are surely in the works.
A crunchy, entertaining, occasionally preachy political thriller.