A provocative premise (the day the neo-Nazis came to Lake Wobegon?) undercut by a far-fetched finale.

AGITATORS

In a near-future America rocked by anti-Muslim sentiments, a Secret Service agent weighs a top-secret mission to thwart a vile, racist presidential candidate from achieving the Oval Office.

Featuring Allen Drury–like Washington, D.C., polemics of yesteryear; down-home Minnesota color; and pure sci-fi fancy, this debut cautionary novel opens in election year 2024. Although future benefits include renewable energy, self-driving cars, and sensible gun control laws (a consequence of neo-Nazi snipers murdering 263 in a single strike), the U.S. is in turmoil thanks to an economic recession combined with an influx of “Hajjis,” unassimilated Muslims fleeing a fierce Islamic civil war ravaging the Middle East. Even without guns, organized right-wing, white militants, aka Agitators or “Agits,” clash with Hajjis in deadly street fights in major cities. Republican presidential hopeful Earl “Dutch” Chapman only benefits, as he’s an unashamed Muslim hater with a “Make America Great Again” platform. Meanwhile, Lou Denslow, a Secret Service special officer, revisits his aged father and old pals in Minneapolis. Fair-minded Lou loathes Agits and is uncomfortable with the prospect of guarding a neo-fascist White House occupant, as Chapman gains support over feckless incumbent President Drummond. Chapters alternate between Lou and his personal life and flashbacks detailing the rise to power of the rabble-rousing Chapman. While real-life names and incidents (9/11, of course) have cameos here, Van Lear skillfully makes Chapman as far from being a Donald Trump look-alike as practical. The illegally adopted son of an odious Texas oilman, Chapman is a former Dallas mayor, Lone Star State governor, and Beirut war veteran with a fondness for punk rock, gratitude for Barack Obama’s nailing Osama bin Laden, and an arrest record stemming from his addictions. While Hajjis are described as being insular and harboring a few jihadis among their hordes, they are sympathetic and law-abiding compared to the scruffy Agits—flag-waving, drug- and alcohol-abusing louts from broken homes, not unlike their favorite candidate. The author uses the setup to deftly editorialize how the destruction of the American middle class by moneyed interests fosters a climate of blame and bigotry too easily exploited by political cabals. But a last-minute cascade of twists hastily piles on sci-fi tropes, coincidences, and a Twilight Zone deus ex machina that seem like a bit of a cheat compared with the realism and ripped-from-the-headlines urgency of everything that preceded them.  

A provocative premise (the day the neo-Nazis came to Lake Wobegon?) undercut by a far-fetched finale.

Pub Date: May 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-982993-57-3

Page Count: 287

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Jan. 25, 2019

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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