A debut philosophical novel tells the story of an insurgent popular political movement.
In #Walk by Ovid House, the characters are reading a volume called #Walk by an author named Ovid House. The back of this work within a work asserts: “This book was written by Ovid House. Ovid House is you, the reader of this novel. The person who wrote this book wants you to see yourself as its author.” The novel calls for a movement to pass an amendment to the Constitution that would make all Americans members of the House of Representatives, increasing their democratic clout. The book becomes a phenomenon. Adherents to its ideas chant and march, spreading the doctrine and alarming the powers that be. All of the supporters identify as Ovid House, just as the book encourages them to do. Eric Rane, the actual author, never intended it to become a real movement, and hides from the world. His ex-girlfriend, Karen Drake, founds an Ovid House-based organization and becomes the movement’s unlikely leader. Jessica Morris is a college student and true believer who sets up an Ovid House chapter at her university. The movement is nonviolent and expresses itself primarily through creativity, but simply questioning the status quo makes it a target for attack from all sides. The difficulties of participating in a crusade with an anonymous leader that encourages everyone to contribute ideas quickly become apparent, as does the tenacity with which the influential in society attempt to keep the movement from spreading. Eric becomes convinced that the real Ovid House must step forward to lead his followers, but is he even the authentic Ovid House anymore? Can his devotees—the many faces of Ovid House—hold together to achieve their revolutionary goals?
Author House’s prose is simple and direct, with many nods to the book’s metafictional flourishes. “It’s more entertaining than you’d expect,” says one character, when asked to describe the novel (wink, wink). Appropriately for a work about a grass-roots movement, the author includes places for readers to add their own input: “[Missing chapters: Combine any number of chapters from this work with your own chapters to write a novella about Eric and Karen’s relationship. Submit your novella on Ovidhouse.com.]” The primary engine for the plot is dialogue, usually between two or three of the characters, that gives voice to various concerns of the movement. As such, the characters never feel quite real, more like puppets that the author is using to get his ideas on paper. Even so, more than political philosophy, they discuss their desires and fears at great length, particularly feelings of inadequacy and hopes for a better future. The dialogue is a little stilted, and the movement’s opposition often come across as quite cartoonish, but readers will clearly recognize many strands from recent contemporary life—Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders supporters, the Resistance—as well as debates about campus protest culture and political civility. Is this the launching work of a new revolution, though? Probably not. But we’ll see.
A self-aware political tale for the present day.