Set mostly in the not-too-distant future, James’ (People and Peppers: A Romance, 2015, etc.) novel follows a sprawling cast of characters as they cope with (and sometimes profit from) environmental degradation, the privatization of the U.S. government, and a deadly illness.
Chief among the protagonists here is Whitney “Whitey” Fording, of Backwoods, Missouri, who quits the military because of the presence of too many “Coloreds” and, sometime later, moves to New York City, where he’s promptly arrested for his part in a scam. Sentenced to “rehab” and admitted into a mysterious “early-release program,” Whitey falls in love with one of his instructors, Annabel Brea-Sauzi, despite the fact (or maybe because) she is “black as a moonless Missouri midnight.” Little does he know Annabel is interested in him, at least in part, for his genetic material, for reasons that become apparent over the course of the novel. Meanwhile, a group of billionaires, rich off technologies meant to address climate change, initiate a “bloodless coup,” taking over the U.S. government as a “civilian Authority” called “NuUS[dot]com.” Other characters include Whitey’s siblings, a trio of “sixteen-year-old nerds,” and even a cyborg named Aesop. James’ writing is lively and often funny, but there’s too much going on here to invest in the characters or their circumstances. The second (and stronger) half of the novel follows Whitey as he, his sister, her lawyer boss, Annabel, and the couple’s young daughter flee to Backwoods after a strange illness begins killing off large swaths of humanity. By then, though, readers already lost in the flood of characters and subplots may have run out of patience.
Digressions abound and ultimately overwhelm James’ ambitious but unfocused story.