Nov 22, 08
Read in November, 2008
This hippie Vonnegut Mad Max tale, reminded me of Tim Robbins writing about a Manhattan transformed like Romero's Pittsburgh in Land of the Dead, after an economic apocalypse much like the current crisis. The dollar dies. The government dissolves, and the action of the story takes place five years later, when the losers have lost their lives and the remaining are struggling to hold on to their own. Slattery's exposition is superb in a conversational manner, as if he's sitting the reader down and verbally telling them a history of the end days of America. The dialogue and action, the real meat of good fiction, fall a little short. His characters are often Ocean's Eleven cookies pushed through a hip sci-fi sensibility.
The Aardvark's tower, with its revolving spotlight, at different points in the book reminds me of Sauron's evil eye. That's how big of a nerd I am. I can't let go of the Tolkien. However, the Aardvark himself, a bit of a lame mystery like Doctor Claw, with his sexy Dutch lawyer chick always at hand. The Americoids, a traveling hippie troupe, like the Merry Pranksters doubly on acid, push this communal message of Slattery's a little too hard. It's as if Hunter S. Thompson's high water mark was just a dam that only broke the dollar did and flooded New York. Marco's origin in Bolivia shrouded in crime and slavery are especially vivid. The assassin, a lame ninja, is dispatched as abruptly as he deserved to be. Johanna, an east coast Patty Hearst type, champions a free state in, off all places, North Carolina. Texas, as desolate as ever, sweats grime and slavery. The African American reaction to this new post-apocalyptic development is dealt with briefly when Dayneesha watches a black man sold on an auction block. But aren't these the things that deserve more attention? Real slavery and real dire fanaticism? Slattery fails to get at the real human elements of this type of situation. The violence and the music and the imagery are all enthralling, but this type of story works best when it surprises us with brutal realities about how we'll act when every second our life lies in the balance. Slattery's America goes on bartering and trading and driving trucks only five years after society as we know has been flushed away. Okay. You eat it? We fry it.
Marco liberates everyone with a few well placed punches and bullets. Tyrone Fly, a minor character, shows some deep American magic when he beheads Myra Jong the slave master with the scythe from Kentucky, sprinkled with whiskey from the still of his dead brother. "You shall free them all." Here Slattery has created grace notes more interesting than his core melody. What makes the Slick Six any better than the Aardvark? Aren't all of these characters just opportunistic criminals who exploit weaknesses? I snickered at Slattery's Burning Man style freedom festival in the desert. Come on, man. Slavery is treated as a mortgage, something we buy into but can never buy out of again. The Vibe is corny. The Kansas scenes are like Cormac McCarthy. At this point in the book I really lost interest in what was going on in Asia. Cyclone Cal and his circus are crusty denizens of Thunderdome. Tyrone Fly turns out to be a sort of Tom Cullen savior, from The Stand, only he gets a personalized happy ending.
Slattery's style, conversational at times, quite fluid and lyrical throughout, saves this book. Hopefully he'll eschew some of the hippie nonsense for his next novel.