Scranton's second novel (War Porn, 2016, etc.) is less genre-bending than genre-shredding: part Kerouac-ian road trip, part end-of-days satire of Trump-era America, part fever dream, part extension and revision of Badlands and Natural-Born Killers.
At the book's center is a jaded writer named Suzie. She agrees to go on a cross-country road trip with an iconoclastic video artist—a former Wall Streeter who seems like what would happen if one of Tom Wolfe's Masters of the Universe quit finance and decided to remake himself by method-acting Wolfe's prose style—and the filmmaker's videographer/aide-de-camp. The early chapters, as the three of them clash and bristle and preen as they try to find the shape of the thing—of their quest, of themselves, of America itself—are fascinating and hyperkinetic. These pages are simultaneously high flown and earthy, like a Platonic dialogue as written by Quentin Tarantino. All art is bluster and nonsense, Suzie says to the filmmaker, but the "best stuff...is so highly refined and audacious and dense that nobody cares whether it's bullshit or not." That theory of art is this novel's aim and ideal, and for a good while Scranton succeeds at it. But midway through, the trip flies apart—the center cannot hold, or at least the vintage 1971 Plymouth Valiant they're driving cannot hold these three egos—and the book becomes, for a time, a fever dream, what Scranton calls a "dream ballet," before we rejoin Suzie, heading west again, alone this time, as she composes a retelling from Caril Ann Fugate's perspective of her murder spree with Charlie Starkweather. Not all Scranton's risks pan out—the descent of narrative into chaos is more appealing in principle than in, you know, narrative—but this novel has big ambitions, a whipsawing imaginative energy, and, at its heart, the urgency and earnestness of a jeremiad.
America, Scranton seems to argue, will not, cannot, end well.