THE PIKETTY PROBLEM by Garth Hallberg

THE PIKETTY PROBLEM

Or The Robots Are Coming, the Robots Are Coming
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this novel, a Donald Trump supporter dreams of building the restaurant of the future while others conspire to hold him accountable for the low wages he pays his workers.

George Dealy and his wife, Suzanne, have always had their differences politically. Republican George came from a working-class background and now owns several McDonald’s franchises. Suzanne, whose heritage includes wealthy parents, currently co-chairs the Democratic Committee in their town of Canaandale, New York. On a fateful night in the summer of 2016, George antagonizes his wife by insulting the French economist Thomas Piketty in front of her cultured European friends Hugo and Francesca. Later that evening, when Suzanne mentions a local news story about an impoverished woman who shoplifted, George suggests that if she empathizes so much with the plight of the poor, she should try it herself. Enraged, Suzanne sets out to do just that, hoping to humiliate her husband. Her plans change when she runs into Steve Harris, an underemployed marketer recently separated from his wife. The two bond over a mutual affection for Piketty. Harris sees their meeting as kismet while Suzanne senses another opportunity for revenge on her husband. Meanwhile, Harris’ daughter Cindy is hoping her dad and mother can reconcile and that her boyfriend, a Fight for $15 organizer, would be more supportive. The economic arguments the characters have should be familiar to readers. But their entertaining antics and Hallberg’s (Boon Juster or The Reason for Everything, 2014) snappy prose make for a very engaging read. The only problem with this absorbing story is the foreword, in which the author defines his book as a “social novel,” comparing it to Uncle Tom’s Cabin, The Jungle, and The Grapes of Wrath. This seems like a misclassification; instead of depicting the struggles of the working class, the tale skillfully shows readers how middle- and upper-class people talk about the rights of workers. (At one point, Hugo tells George: “There is a role for government in helping prevent the worst excesses of an economic system that is fundamentally based on maximizing personal gain. The minimum wage…is only there to protect the poorest and most vulnerable members of society.”) While perhaps bordering on a social novel, Hallberg’s book is delightfully more satirical in tone. It is a relatable and humorous caper and a cogent breakdown and sendup of modern political discourse.

An amusing and thoughtful political tale.

Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 2017
ISBN: 978-0-9913770-4-6
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: The Reason for Everything, LLC
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2018




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