In this wildly farcical, speculative tale, a decadeslong rivalry between friends results in the expulsion of Texas from the United States.
In 2027, Peter Phelt, the governor of the Lone Star State, receives some extraordinary news: The other 49 states have voted Texas, which they call a “monotonous inanity,” out of the union. Puerto Rico is immediately elevated to statehood and takes the Texas name, so Phelt is left with no other choice but to rename his territory; it’s now “the Republic of North Mexico.” However, the fate of Texas is not just the result of its insufferableness—Phelt’s woes have been orchestrated by Pastor Arlen Bob Yates, the founder of the Church of the P-Free Sabbath. Yates’ megachurch is not only wildly wealthy, but also influential—he controls all of Texas’ state politics and dominates the FBI and IRS as well. His ultimate goal is “taking over the world,” but his most impassioned desire seems to be to ruin Phelt, in particular: “I came to Texas…to amass the fortune I would need to destroy you when you were at the pinnacle of your career, because you’ve ruined my life,” he says. When Yates and Phelt were friends as children in Indiana, Yates learned that they were switched at birth and raised by each other’s biological parents. Debut author Ayer confusingly jumps back and forth in time in this narrative, conveying not only the history of Phelt and Yates’ personal rivalry, but of the state of Texas as well. The plot is ingeniously inventive, and Yates’ character, a “master dissembler” who creates a memorably vulgar lampoon of a popular church, is a riveting caricature. The author unambiguously announces his literary influences—there are references to both Jonathan Swift and Kurt Vonnegut here—but the novel is more manically ecstatic than comedic, and it lacks the astute social commentary of those luminaries’ works. Also, Ayer seems intent on packing a punchline into nearly every sentence—a style that feels more vaudevillian than satirical and that is ultimately exhausting.
A clever but taxingly overdone comedic performance.