THE SUBPRIMES by Karl Taro Greenfeld


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In a near future where the poor have been utterly undermined by the rich, a renegade emerges to champion the inherent good in people.

After mocking urban gentrification in his debut novel (Triburbia, 2012), here Greenfeld employs the ethos of the Occupy movement in imagining how the worst tendencies of conservative power and economic greed might wreak havoc on a nation. The novel opens on a squatter’s camp in California, where “Subprimes” with ruined credit ratings wander fruitlessly looking for food and shelter. We meet Sargam, a motorcycle-riding orphan whose kindness is blinding. Blessed by one young family for giving them a little money, she says, “Not God. It’s just people. People helping people. That’s all we got.” Greenfeld pulls back the curtain on his slow apocalypse to reveal an America where roads, education, and the justice system have been privatized, with public services and schools left to crumble. In an eerie sidebar, the poisoned environment is driving whales to beach themselves in mass numbers. Greenfeld alternates his third-person narrative with a first-person perspective on current events from Richie Schwab, one of LA’s last journalists, who copes by smoking potent weed and working his beat. Schwab falls in with Gemma Mack, the beleaguered wife of Arthur Mack, a hedge fund manager who famously swindled billions from his clients. Arthur is now in cahoots with “Pastor Roger,” the leader of a megachurch who empowers industrialists and oil barons in the name of God—seriously, the villains here make the most single-minded Objectivists look like saints by comparison. Sargam and her tribe make their way to rural Nevada, where the Subprimes occupy a housing development and begin building a fair, equitable, and sustainable community dubbed Valence. Naturally, the bad guys learn there’s fracking energy to be had beneath Valence, and the fight is on. Ain’t no justice, just us.

Greenfeld has a tendency to lean toward parody in his satiric style, but here he employs enough authenticity to terrify, enough black humor to disarm the story's inherent pessimism, and a surprising admiration for faith in its myriad forms.

Pub Date: May 5th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-213242-0
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2015


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