WATERLOO by Karen Olsson


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Acid-sweet tale of life, love and politics in slackerville.

Texas Monthly writer Olsson’s wry first novel is set in a lightly fictionalized Austin, Texas, a town disoriented by the tech boom. Centered on the tight-knit political scene (it reads like a post-script to Billy Brammer’s The Gay Place), Olsson’s characters cross paths as they struggle fitfully toward action through a haze of heat, alcohol and compromised ideals. Nick Lasseter, a reporter for the no-longer-independent Weekly, is sunk in a torpor exacerbated by the paper’s new “serve the consumer” attitude and his ex-girlfriend’s engagement. His uncle, Bones Lasseter, is an alcoholic wreck of a wily lobbyist who misses the ’70s, when cheap rent, drugs and ideals were easily attainable. Distracted by her affair with the dimwitted but handsome gubernatorial candidate, Republican freshman legislator Beverly Flintic unwittingly sponsors a bill written by a national land developer and innocently breaks with the party line. An ambitious black woman, Andrea Carter is just putting in her time among the white liberals at the daily paper, but finds herself drawn to Nick’s world of drinking, music and eccentricity when they go on a few dates. (Latinos, by the way, are oddly absent from Waterloo.) Andrea is haunted by her father’s Waterloo legacy as a desegregationist and employee of congressman William Sabert, whose death opens the novel. Mourned as one of the last great liberals, Sabert is really a moderate who drifted into greatness. Indeed, the importance and danger of drift, mess, moderation and nostalgia is Olsson’s true subject—and a strength and weakness of the novel. Olsson’s narrative lines touch, but do not cohere. Important things happen, but the action seems deliberately muted, belated, offstage. Ultimately, however, Olsson’s dry irony, nuanced observations and enjoyably moody atmosphere build into a sophisticated portrait of her hometown.

A debut to be enjoyed by idealists everywhere, and one bound to get Austin locals gossiping.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2005
ISBN: 0-374-28626-4
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2005


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