A debut novel traces a turbulent campaign season in an alternate America where the religious far right has formed its own party and government censorship abounds.
In the mid-1990s, Joseph Billson, a charismatic reverend, begins an alternative to the GOP: the GOD Party, focused on bringing the country under Christian law. The Republican administration, looking to keep power, engages with the new party by increasing the censorship of, broadly, any anti-Christian act: protests, pornography, and violence. Walter Stanquist, the head of the FBI, is tasked with covertly suppressing anything anti-Christian and ends up imprisoning his neighbor, a writer named Amy Flintridge, after she publicly speaks out against the government. This angers his wife, Muffy, who is aghast at her husband’s dismissal of free speech. Amy is put into solitary confinement as a political prisoner in a remote facility, unable to communicate with her friends or family; the media, fearful of political retribution, drop the Flintridge story. In her cell, Amy explores the limits of her consciousness, playing with ideas of language, building a life out of words. Unbeknown to her, this mental wandering eventually lets her send a message to her sons, Hans and Ted, who, before her incarceration, implanted a small computer in her gumline. Her short message includes the word lilacs, which prompts the brothers to start a surreal, highly effective protest movement against government repression using the flowers and random words. Caught in the middle of all this is Marti Blaydocus, a Chicago area reporter who becomes close with Billson’s father, embedded in his son’s campaign, and also chases the Flintridge story. As Marti discovers more and more, she stumbles on secrets that threaten to undo not only Billson, but also the reigning Republicans. Throughout the wide web of the plot, Requist’s characterizations are mostly flat, with the cast members sticking to predetermined scripts, though players such as Billson’s father do show a surprising amount of range. And in Amy’s stream-of-consciousness musings, the author is able to let loose and deftly escape the confines of conventional prose that define the rest of the novel. Requist’s provocative premise is intriguing, her lucid theme of fighting censorship is noble, and her astute observations about modern politics are prescient. But, eventually, the many tangled threads of the elaborate plot overwhelm these messages.
A political thriller that stretches itself too far in pursuit of a worthy goal.