An alternately playful and serious novel set in a vaguely limned dystopian future.
Debut novelist Crawford, like most satirists, extrapolates from aspects of current reality to see where things might lead. This story begins in a depressing pocket of poverty reminiscent of Central America, from which the protagonist, Max, escapes to the U.S., aka “the Deadly Serious Republic” or “the DSR.” Once there, he searches for his hapless father, Dingle. Enter the other main character, Memie Benzlo, one of the richest young women in the DSR (and the world), who gravitates toward communism despite her suffocating wealth. Max and Memie make an unlikely team, with Memie continually spouting off and running off, and levelheaded Max doing his best to keep her from getting killed. The early chapters are picaresque and relatively lighthearted, and Crawford apparently enjoys taking potshots at easy targets such as runaway capitalism, casual violence, rampant privatization (with the Bombs R Us Corporation) and parties of all stripes (with the Neo Nazis, the Not so Neo Nazis, the Nasty Peoples Party, and others). He also has fun with barely disguised names, such as the city of New Pork, the economist Milton Trickledown, and the media baron Robert Newsdock. When things get ugly and people start getting killed, Max and Memie go on the run for their lives—although Memie, the ideologue, refuses to take it seriously. However, this is where the book turns into a genuine suspense thriller, and although aficionados of such novels may feel that Crawford has yet to master the genre, he certainly gives it a good try. The heroes flit from corrupt African islands to corrupt Caribbean ones, battling evil all the way, and their final nemesis, Leopold Duraka, could have stepped out of a James Bond movie. The ending is both surprising and unsettling, as the author slyly indicts a society in which there are no real winners. Those who agree with the author’s left-leaning politics will most enjoy this novel, but those who don’t may still enjoy its cleverness.
A satirical thriller that offers witty observations in a sprawling framework.