Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Big If: A Novel” as Want to Read:
Big If: A Novel
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Big If: A Novel

3.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  294 Ratings  ·  35 Reviews
It's winter in New Hampshire, the economy is booming, the vice president is running for president, and his Secret Service people are very, very tense.

Meet Vi Asplund, a young Secret Service agent mourning her dead father. She goes home to New Hampshire to see her brother Jens, a computer genius who just might be going mad—and is poised to make a fortune on Big If, a viciou
ebook, 0 pages
Published August 15th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2002)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Big If, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Big If

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 724)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Joe Valdez
I went from abandoning two novels on Stephen King's Reading List Part II, 2666 by Roberto Bolaño and The Dirty Secrets Club by Meg Gardiner, to giving a shot to one more, Big If by Mark Costello. I finished this one. Wit, character and research go a long way with me, even in the case of books like this, where those elements become indulgent and prove to be an awkward substitute for a story.

I struggled through the cryptic title (science fiction? romance? self help?) and cover design, with both pr
Ted Burke
Oct 29, 2010 Ted Burke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Costello's novel Big If is a superb and unforgiving comedy of American life involving a low-level Secret Service agent who must get reacquainted with her estranged computer-genius brother when she takes a respite from the paranoid turns and twists of her nerve-rattling job. This is a book of richly skewed characters doing their best to make sense of their lives, or at least have their lives take on a fleeting semblance of normality.The quests, individual and collective, aren't what anyone w ...more
Jul 05, 2011 Punk rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fiction. Though this book will tell you it's about the United States Secret Service, it's really just about some people who happen to work for the USSS and a couple more people who happen to know those people. It's about people. One of those people books where nothing much happens. You meet all these people, you get their flashbacks, you learn about their problems, and then the book is about that. Will Gretchen ever connect with her son in any meaningful way? Will Peta ever get Lauren Czoll to m ...more
Jan 26, 2013 Yvonne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
“If you're 50 years old or younger, give every book about 50 pages before you decide to commit yourself to reading it, or give it up. If you're over 50, which is when time gets shorter, subtract your age from 100 - the result is the number of pages you should read before deciding whether or not to quit. If you're 100 or over you get to judge the book by its cover, despite the dangers in doing so.” ― Nancy Pearl

I wish I'd read this when I started this book, I would've stopped reading much sooner.
Dec 13, 2013 Brendan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Big If might contain the most astute cultural observations ever committed to the pages of an assassination novel. OK, that's a joke, because when you hear "assassination novel", you're probably expecting a by-the-numbers, plot-driven tale of brilliant but flawed gunmen, hard-boiled government agents, smuggled rifles and escape routes.

By choosing to mostly ignore plot and focus instead on his characters, Costello gets away with both exploding assumptions and taking us all on a messy, beautiful j
K2 -----
Dec 26, 2014 K2 ----- rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
It took me a long time to finish this book which isn't a good sign. Although I felt I gained some insights into what it is to be an agent working in the Secret Service I kept thinking that something was going to pull it all together and for me it just never did.

I found myself distracted and I'd put the book down and do something else.

Perhaps the reading suffered from so many interruptions but I was on an airplane for a longer flight and I still didn't finish it. Not a good sign.

I couldn't relate
Nov 16, 2010 Holly rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Set over a matter of days before a presedential election, Costello explores the past and present of brother and sister Violet and Jens Asplund, Jens' wife Peta, Vi's coworkers Gretchen and Tashmo. Vi, Gretchen and Tashmo are Secret Service bodyguards protecting the current VP running in the presidential race; Jens is a software designer for a violent teenager's computer game, and Peta is a sucessful real estate agent.

Costello does a great job playing these different characters' lives off each ot
Jack Waters
Mark Costello’s hard-boiled political story tale as prescient and present today as it must have when it was published in 2002. I also think he was robbed of the National Book Award, a mere finalist to Julia Glass’s “Three Junes.”

Costello tosses the reader into the lives of Secret Service agents & video game designers, as familial obligations and obfuscations take the toll during the high-stakes of a presidential election.

It’s about protection and invention with paranoia fueling the weaving p
Eliza Victoria
Aug 30, 2012 Eliza Victoria rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mark Costello’s novel Big If is populated with some of the most interesting, most contemporary, characters. Walter is a moderate Republican atheist working in insurance. He has the habit of crossing out GOD in his dollar bills so that the statement reads IN US WE TRUST. He has two children: Jens, who has grown up as a software programmer, writing code for and pondering the morality (or immorality, or amorality) of the monster game he has developed; Violet has grown up to work in the Secret Servi ...more
Jan 10, 2014 Andy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A couple of intriguing premises, one involving a sort-or behind-the-scenes scenario at a computer game company and the other an inside look at a team of US Secret Service agents, compose a story which, despite having some well-drawn characters and some really sharp ideas floating through it, never quite seems to come together, and manages to sort of fizzle out in spite of itself.

I don't know; writers in the last couple of decades seem to have either skipped that part of English Lit where they t
Jan 22, 2015 Sherry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good writing, the kind that makes me read a couple of lines or a paragraph to someone else. I like the details about subjects: guarding a V.P., threat-assessment, writing code for online games, appraising insurance claims, selling real estate, getting out the vote. While I was reading, I was very interested, and I may think back on some aspects, but right now, two days after finishing, I have no desire to re-read nor to recommend it to anyone else. I wonder if that will change.
Apr 29, 2014 Harry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
All the way through I'm remembering Delillo's White Noise. It isn't clear till near the end what direction the book is going as you explore different related people's lives. The characters are believable and diverse though related by job and socially. For every character there is always another with the same job who has a different take on things. The book moves well even though there isn't a complex plot. It leaves you thinking about how each character will face the future.
Scott Robins
I'm reading along, thinking "This book is OK, not great but OK", when I get to page 79 and read this: " The tail car swerved, shearing the ambulance and striking a light pole, injuring a deputy, who later died instantly.". Later. Died. Instantly.

Instantly, but later. Not that right away kind of instantly. He lingered while he died instantly.

I will not read another word of this book.
The summary to this novel would make it seem dry & uninteresting, but I didn't find it to be so. Costello excels on taking specified fields (Beltway politics, programming a MMORPG) & making them relateable. Even though Vi is the main focus of the novel, I was much more interested in Jens' story & the ethics of creating an alternate reality while trying to make money or predict human behavior. The story is good, but seems to get away from the writer, giving some of the other subplots ...more
Oct 26, 2014 Amy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thank you NPR, I would have never found this book on my own. More than a book about the secret service, the book puts you into the craziness and lives of people who do that job. I was surprised to see the book also follow the lives of some of the family members of agents too. Just a good story.
Nov 26, 2011 Sam rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this because Costello was the only author mentioned in the New York magazine article "Just Kids" of whom I had never heard.

The book is one very long setup without a payoff. If you need payoff stay the hell away from this book. If you like strong characters, this book has them in abundance. It's a first act followed by a long middle without an ending.
Costello is an engaging storyteller, and most of his NH details were on target. The descriptions of the beauty of computer code and what made it satisfying to Jens were very well done. He has apparently never voted in NH however as his description of the way the polls in NH operate is off. I was disappointed by the ending as many threads of his story are left unresolved.
Frederick Bingham
This is the story of Vi Asplund. She is a Secret Service agent who is in charge of guarding the Vice President as he campaigns for office. They make a campaign swing through New Hampshire, where Vi grew up.There are a number of other characters in the book. Vi's boss Gretchen. Her brother and sister-in-law. A fellow agent named Tashmo and another named Bobbie.
Mar 02, 2011 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The writing wasn't fabulous, but the subject matter was unusual and very well covered. This includes Secret Service protection operations and software development for a web game. There were some memorable characters. After I got a couple chapters in, I enjoyed it very much. Nat'l Book Award finalist.
Victor Claar
A rarity: both the Economist and Esquire liked it, but I did not. A political drama that unfolds more like an Elmore Leonard novel than something richer in its approach. So if you like Elmore Leonard & politics, this might be a winner for you.
Not your typical storyline and characters, which makes it interesting. I read it during the last election, and it made it a little more topical. A glimpse into the secret service and into computer gaming at the same time.
Sep 15, 2009 Rick rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting story and I really like the way the characters were developed. The ending left me unsatisfied and unresolved. The book just sort of stopped as opposed to ended for me.
Ann Stringer
Interesting in light of the recent election. Nothing I really learned from it other than the ins and out of secret service detail. It was a good story though.
Apr 16, 2009 Marie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel a now have a small bit of knowledge of how the secret service agents guard important people in the government, especially when they are out and about.
Roxann Souci
Although this book did keep my attention, the characters didn't fully engage me.
Anti-climactic. Too much noise and background with very little pay out.
Oct 17, 2010 Jenni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It was a interesting book, but it just ended. Where's the wrap-up??
Jan 25, 2008 Moira rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written, but seriously depressing.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 24 25 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • White Man's Grave
  • Crooked River Burning
  • Common Carnage
  • The Dick Gibson Show
  • Latitude Zero
  • The Illusionist
  • Family Values
  • In the Night Season: A Novel
  • Men in Black
  • Lights Out
  • The Last Good Day
  • The Crater
  • Ce que je sais de Vera Candida
  • Waiting
  • Good Enough to Dream
  • The Waterfront Journals
  • Amateur Barbarians
  • Furnace
Mark Costello, a native of Decatur, Illinois, is the author of the story collections The Murphy Stories (University of Illinois Press, 1973), which won the St. Lawrence Award for Short Fiction, and Middle Murphy (University of Illinois Press, 1991). The Murphy Stories has received praise and one of its stories, Murphy's Xmas was anthologized in several collections.

Costello's work has appeared in l
More about Mark Costello...

Share This Book

No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »