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TOKYO DOESN’T LOVE US ANYMORE

Sterile and lifeless.

Memory-erasing drugs are the centerpiece of a bleak, absurdist vision of contemporary life.

Our narrator is a salesman with no name. His current territory is Arizona, where he sells a chemical product called STM (short-term memory eroder); he also peddles LTM. When he’s not working, he does drugs: some company product, which makes him the ultimate unreliable narrator, plus old favorites like cocaine. He also drinks, swims, and has sex. The sex may be with men or women, but it’s always casual (“fucking strangers is what everyone is doing these days”). Biographical fragments (childhood in Spain, divorced parents) don’t flesh him out. He may have a girlfriend in Tokyo, but she stays in the shadows, and his only relationship is with the Company that supplies him with product. The Company communicates through e-mails. Salesmen sometimes steal product and disappear, so they are frequently tested. When the narrator tests positive, he is suspended. His voice is deadpan and without affect. He will move from Arizona to Asia (Bangkok, Saigon, Tokyo), but he is still a man on a treadmill, going through the same motions; there is always a stranger to have sex with as planes fall out of the sky and suicides disturb hotel rooms. Spanish novelist Loriga (My Brother’s Gun, 1997) could have added the spice of confrontations (with the Company or with the Promise Keepers, white Americans who kill the “memory murderers”), but he prefers to document the anomie of listless consumers around the world, not exactly uncharted territory. The narrator winds up in a Berlin hospital with aphasia. After tests, he will be fired by the Company and branded SICA (suspected of illegal chemical activity). At the end, he’s back in Arizona listening to a German veteran of WWII and pioneer of memory elimination, K. L. Krumper, who exists only on a monitor; his brain has been transplanted into a young Mexican girl. The author seems less than fully engaged in these tired science fiction devices.

Sterile and lifeless.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-8021-4147-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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