Doten’s dazzling novel shows off his intellect and facility with language.


Doten makes his fiction debut with a semihistorical novel—the kind of book people label “postmodern” because they don’t know what else to call it.

In the shadow of the Iraq War, the world seems a little strange: Jay Garner puts Paul Bremer in a chokehold on the way to the Green Zone; Osama bin Laden argues with his “students” in a cave while a dialysis machine keeps him alive; Jimmy Wales is a murderer; Mark Zuckerberg seems trapped in a digital landscape called the New City; and Condoleezza Rice was once a photographer who shot unused production stills for Chinatown. What’s going on here? Doten’s book—a stylish, surreal portrait of a 21st century gone mad—will make you scratch your head. Parts of it recall Coover’s The Public Burning, in which a crazed Uncle Sam hurls invective at Richard Nixon; other parts recall Infinite Jest’s plurality of voices (though in Doten's novel, the voices are filtered through—and sometimes garbled by—a database). This book is a considerable achievement, not of storytelling—there’s not really much of a cohesive plot here—but of nerve, scope and ambition. Perhaps Doten is too brash: This is one of those books where you find yourself thinking less about the characters than about the author’s fireworks. (Doten, an editor at Soho Press, seems to acknowledge this by casting himself in the novel as “the man who runs a Big Six New York City publisher.”) But in certain moments, Doten drops his narrative pyrotechnics and plays it straight. Consider a character named Tom Pally, a veteran adapting to life at home: Yes, there’s the surreal detail of him throwing up maggots, but otherwise, his chapters tell a powerful story of displacement.

Doten’s dazzling novel shows off his intellect and facility with language.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-55597-701-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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This is good Hemingway. It has some of the tenderness of A Farewell to Arms and some of its amazing power to make one feel inside the picture of a nation at war, of the people experiencing war shorn of its glamor, of the emotions that the effects of war — rather than war itself — arouse. But in style and tempo and impact, there is greater resemblance to The Sun Also Rises. Implicit in the characters and the story is the whole tragic lesson of Spain's Civil War, proving ground for today's holocaust, and carrying in its small compass, the contradictions, the human frailties, the heroism and idealism and shortcomings. In retrospect the thread of the story itself is slight. Three days, during which time a young American, a professor who has taken his Sabbatical year from the University of Montana to play his part in the struggle for Loyalist Spain and democracy. He is sent to a guerilla camp of partisans within the Fascist lines to blow up a strategic bridge. His is a complex problem in humanity, a group of undisciplined, unorganized natives, emotionally geared to go their own way, while he has a job that demands unreasoning, unwavering obedience. He falls in love with a lovely refugee girl, escaping the terrors of a fascist imprisonment, and their romance is sharply etched against a gruesome background. It is a searing book; Hemingway has done more to dramatize the Spanish War than any amount of abstract declamation. Yet he has done it through revealing the pettinesses, the indignities, the jealousies, the cruelties on both sides, never glorifying simply presenting starkly the belief in the principles for which these people fought a hopeless war, to give the rest of the world an interval to prepare. There is something of the implacable logic of Verdun in the telling. It's not a book for the thin-skinned; it has more than its fill of obscenities and the style is clipped and almost too elliptical for clarity at times. But it is a book that repays one for bleak moments of unpleasantness.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1940

ISBN: 0684803356

Page Count: 484

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1940

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