Second volume in a planned series about the St. Onge Settlement (The School on Heart’s Content Road, 2008, etc.), a collective of disaffected have-nots in North Egypt, Maine.
At first we see the settlement and its charismatic leader, Gordon St. Onge, mostly through the eyes of Record Sun feature writer Ivy Morelli, who receives multiple phone messages warning of child abuse, drugs, guns, religious brainwashing, and anything else the anonymous callers think might prompt her to visit the place and expose its nefariousness. In the scornful eyes of Gordon and other settlement members given voice in this polyphonic novel (which also includes the comments of extraterrestrial “grays” we could do without), Ivy is a media lackey of the ruling class, alternately dishing out human-interest pabulum and scary crime stories to keep the masses frightened and passive. In a country that prefers to ignore the existence of social classes, Chute’s contempt for such air-brushing is bracing, as is her refusal to neaten up her decidedly flawed male protagonist’s opinions and actions. “There is only left or right down here among us crawling grubs,” Gordon sneers. “[A]t the top…there is the unity of ideology.” He despises corporations and well-meaning liberals equally. He also dislikes feminists and has an awful lot of “wives” with an awful lot of babies; his newest spouse, Brianna Vandermast, is only 15. Brianna is no victim, however; she goads Gordon to move beyond creating an alternate world at the settlement and directly challenge the political system that pretends to serve democracy. This provokes sinister undercover servants of the powers that be to make use of Gordon’s messy personal life to manipulate another rebellious proletarian into doing their dirty work.
The plot, the prose and the political pronouncements are as over-the-top as they often are in Chute’s work—which by no means negates the value of her career-long mission to show the elite what people at the bottom of the heap think of the American dream. Bottom line: They’re not fooled.