A dense, ambitious social saga with a sci-fi tinge.

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A literary novel chronicles a young man’s peculiar relationship to objects.

In a near future where increasing levels of technology have made people both interconnected and more isolated, Cole Scott-Knox-Under chooses a different path. A 27-year-old with eyes that “embody the observant fearful gaze of the autodidact: deep skepticism fused to emotional vulnerability,” Cole has chosen to work at Burger King, taking lunch orders while (mostly) avoiding the invasive demands of modernity. He has been instructed to wear virtual reality glasses at all times (which allow him to view his customers’ online lives as presented in clouds around their heads), though he refuses due to a strong aversion to VR that goes back to his teenage years. Cole is more attracted to the analog than the digital, compulsively collecting objects—cup lids, papers bags, plastic utensils—and storing them under his bed in his mother’s apartment. He is already balancing the pressures of family, identity, and a host of social expectations demanded by the colorful characters that populate his life, but things get really strange when the garbage Cole collects begins to speak to him. A plastic cup named Jason thanks Cole for picking him off the ground, but tells him, “There are more. They need to be rescued as well.” Cole isn’t sure if he’s crazy or uniquely sane, but whatever his neurological state, it is driving him to exhaustion. In a world where everything, both animate and inanimate, is made to be disposable, Cole desperately seeks something permanent on which to anchor his life. Bramble’s (Grid City Overload, 2012, etc.) work evokes that of many 20th-century authors who sought to grapple with their eras’ technological tumult. His postmodern maximalism calls to mind Thomas Pynchon and William T. Vollmann; his grim dystopianism, Orwell and Margaret Atwood; his overt social criticism, Richard Wright and Kurt Vonnegut. The prose is clear and precise, though it accumulates with the heft of bricks piled to form a wall. The author possesses a particular interest in the physicality and unnaturalness of the objects in Cole’s world: “Aerosol deodorant cans; wasted steel shells burnt from escaping xylyl bromide; stockpiles of burned CDs now too scratched and so laid to death; lungs withered and crusted with sulfur.” Cole may be the protagonist, but the story’s strongest personality is its authorial third-person narrator, who routinely pulls the reader away from the hero to offer essayistic digressions on the nature of technology and society using frequent (and sometimes-multipage) excerpts from sources as varied as scientific studies, Salon articles, and Will Self novels. On its own, the book represents an impressive intellectual feat. As the third volume in a triptych of novels concerned with technology’s impact on the way humans think and feel, the work confirms the prodigious talent of its author. Cerebral and often funny, this is by no means a tale for everyone. But those readers who like their fiction built on heady concepts will find this book to be a challenging and gratifying experience.

A dense, ambitious social saga with a sci-fi tinge.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5087-7263-7

Page Count: 444

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2017

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous White policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE

Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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