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

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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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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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