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AMERICAN EPITAPH by James Laabs

AMERICAN EPITAPH

By James Laabs

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2012
ISBN: 978-0976759959
Publisher: First American

A grim 2025 comes to life in Laabs’s timely dystopian thriller.

Just over a decade into the future, the United States of America has succumbed to rule by a tiny, extremely wealthy fraction of the population. After winning the election in the fall of 2012, America’s elite turned their chosen politicians into little more than puppets. Elections are rigged, states are fractured, homosexuals are institutionalized and the vast nonelite is divided between government wage-slaves and unemployed squatters. Patrick, the book’s hero, ekes out a living growing vegetables in his backyard. When Jimmy, a hard-nosed Vietnam veteran, enlists Patrick in a mission to aid his small rebel faction, Patrick finds himself becoming a leader in the increasingly powerful rebellion. Laabs’s eerily plausible shadow-America is an engaging environment for any reader to explore (especially one who shares Laabs’s liberal politics). The plot tracks the rebellion’s progression from a ragtag band to an actual threat to the elite, and the story’s clever twists and turns are exciting throughout. There’s even a delightfully sadistic villain named Nefario, who is prone to bouts of melancholy and dreams of dictatorship and nuclear weapons. Most of the characters, though, are closer to two-dimensional caricatures than fully realized people. Early on, Patrick expresses ambivalence about killing his opponents, but as the book focuses more on the rebellion’s development, such examples of introspection and emotion fall by the wayside. Clunky exposition is a problem too; one 20something, who presumably lived through the country’s transformation herself, actually says to Jimmy: “How did things become the way they are now?” Similarly, the plot is unnaturally tidy: complicated missions routinely go off without a hitch and key characters come to exactly the right realizations at exactly the right times. But despite this book’s drawbacks, it boasts a propulsive plot, a creepy-cool setting and a sense of genuinely high stakes.

Laabs offers an imaginative, well-oiled machine of a story, with just enough connection to current tensions to keep readers involved and anxious.