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Hystopia

2.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,066 Ratings  ·  191 Reviews
By the early 1970s, President John F. Kennedy has survived several assassination attempts and—martyred, heroic—is now in his third term. Twenty-two-year-old Eugene Allen returns home from his tour of duty in Vietnam and begins to write a war novel—a book echoing Catch-22 and Slaughterhouse-Five—about veterans who have their battlefield experiences "enfolded," wiped from th ...more
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published April 19th 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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Mark
Nov 28, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: general-fiction, dnf
OMG I can't believe it - this goes totally against my grain but I DNF'd this book.

David Means seemed to draw from some of the greatest writers and novels ever written. In Hystopia we are faced with an alternate history where the Vietnam war continues to rage and America is inundated with returning soldiers who have had horrific experiences.

The country is divided into two parts. The bulk of it holds the general population while the state of Michigan holds the returned soldiers who are too damaged
...more
Doug
Jul 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
"Fuck plot and fuck story and fuck the way one thing fits to another and fuck cause and effect, because there wasn't none and if there was we didn't see much of it." p. 159

Kind of Means to provide his own review within the pages of his novel. I am not so much shocked at this being nominated for a Booker as I am flabbergasted that the damn thing ever got published in the first place! I mean, just WHO is the intended audience for this? Drug-addled illiterate crazy killer Nam-era vets, which compri
...more
Sara Batkie
There are a lot of readers out there, mostly of the Pynchonian persuasion, who will probably be all in for this book. But I found it a wildly uneven reading experience. Means' prose is unimpeachable of course but it also never quite reaches the insanity that his premise suggests. Many of the scenes in the book-within-a-book have a madcap mix of Catch-22 meets Tarantino that make it both fun and frustrating to read moment to moment, but I could never entirely buy it as the product of an unhinged ...more
Nancy Oakes
Aug 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Whew. Not an easy read at all.

There is this wonderful scene on page 154 of this novel, which is actually a book within a book, where one of the characters has a vision where she hears a dead boyfriend saying the following:

" I wonder who's going to tell the story, Meg? Nothing else to say. You see, you had to be here and you weren't. You know the one that goes: How many Vietnam vets does it take to screw in a lightbulb? How many? You fucking don't know because you weren't there, man."

And therein
...more
BlackOxford
Sep 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
Back to the Womb

The effect of this novel isn't, at least on me, one of a narrative opened and closed. It is more one of the creation and sustaining of a single feeling of cold vulnerability to everything in the world from its people to the natural environment. The reader as well as the characters search constantly for some reassuring meaning. The pervasive drug-induced haze distorts everything, however, inducing the perception one has in the midst of a severe hangover of being one or two nano-se
...more
Jessica Sullivan
Hystopia is one of those books that’s hard for me to rate, because I appreciate it more than I actually enjoyed reading it. It’s a complex, mindfuck of a novel that pays homage to some of the most memorable works of postmodernist fiction from the late 20th century.

Here’s where I try to tell you what it’s about. Okay, so it’s the late 1960s, the Vietnam War is raging on, and Kennedy is about to enter his third term in office. In this revisionist history, the U.S. government has created a federal
...more
Elaine
Aug 07, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2016
Hystopia was not likely to be my cup of tea. I am not an avid devourer of Vietnam novels (although the Vietnam War just provides the pretext of this novel - it could be about the aftermath of any endless war, anywhere). I was a bit put off by the emphasis on drug use described in some reviews - I find reading about other people's altered states very boring. (But here too, while the characters are usually drugged by themselves or others, there's not much - some, but not much - dwelling on psychot ...more
Gumble's Yard
Jan 06, 2017 rated it did not like it
Initially a promising premise, the book simply meanders and too many of the parts of the book, the reader is effectively left to work out what is happening (and more damningly does not really care).

Overall, a renowned short story writer has aimed unsuccessfully for his first novel with what could have made an excellent novella.
Ash
Mar 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a strange, dreamy book, remniscent of 1984 and Philip K Dick. Hystopia is the book that Eugene Allen writes after returning from Vietnam, and it's bookended by author's notes, editor's notes, quotes from his family and friends. This is the kind of shit I go for: stories buried in stories, a self-conscious gimmick that throws the whole authorial agreement into question. This is fiction, of course: nothing is real. But the traditional agreement between authors and readers is that, for the ...more
Neil
Jul 27, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016-booker, 2016
Have you seen the movie "Mike Bassett: England Manager" where two footballers, Benson and Hedges, are plucked from minor league obscurity to play for the England national football team because the manager writes the team selection on a packet of cigarettes? I am beginning to wonder if something similar has happened with this year's Man Booker Long List.

This book might not be quite as bad a 1* suggests, but I wanted to make sure it was clear that it is my least favourite of the 8 I have so far re
...more
Connor
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This is without a doubt one of the best books I've read this year. It's got a format (text-within-a-text) that is mind-boggling complex, but pulls it off effortlessly. I finished it and immediately wanted to reread it.

It somehow encapsulates the violence and trauma of the Vietnam War perfectly. The entire concept of 'enfolding' was fascinating and beautiful, a make-believe way of erasing the tramautic events that the in-text author went through. It felt real, viscerally and brutally real.

Would
...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Aug 01, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
I would not have picked this book up based on description, and only gave it a go because it was on the Man Booker prize list. I can see 50 pages in that this is not a book I wish to finish. It just isn't my thing. I do like the zany alternate history idea but the violence and meta-story, not so much.

(But it can be your thing.)
Britta Böhler
The Deer Hunter meets Natural Born Killer. Although I didn't enjoy it in the beginning, the book grew on me later on. Still, the novel-in-the-novel felt unnecessary, as did the setting (Kennedy is still alive in the 1970ies, serving his third term).
2.5*
Julie
Oct 30, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 21st-century
This book lasted as long as the Vietnam War itself and is equally as messy, convoluted and incomprehensible. A waste of my good time.
cardulelia carduelis
Aug 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: discarded
Wow there was nothing for me in this book and I’m struggling to understand why/how it made the Man Booker longlist.
Let’s be real here, I might not always like a book: perhaps I found the plot dragged or the characters bland, perhaps I think it’s literary to a fault or that the writing could be better but there’s usually some redeeming quality that'll allow me to finish it.

So what went wrong?
Hystopia's opening 20 or so pages should have warned me that this wasn’t going to be an exceptionally well
...more
vi macdonald
Not gonna lie, I was really pumped for this. A piece of gleeful postmodernist insanity that hearkens back to Slaughterhouse-5 and Catch-22 while also receiving comparisons to Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy with alternate history elements that reminded me of Phillip K. Dick's more entertainingly bonkers flights of fancy? HELL YEAH??! This is the kind of madness I live for!!

And then I actually read it.
And at first I was not disappointed, immediately welcomed in by 50-odd pages of humorous ed
...more
Lenore Beadsman64
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: postmoderni
Meaning of dystopia

nell'America anni settanta di Means Kennedy è scampato a vari attentati, conduce i suoi affari e il Vietnam non è mai finito, e già qua è difficile non vedere il sottotesto di Means sull'America di Trump, bande di scoppiati reduci "avvolti" o svolti malamente (questo merita un dettaglio a parte: qui esiste una pratica con cui si avvolgono/rimuovono in senso psicoanalitico i ricordi legati al trauma della guerra dei reduci che ce la fanno a restare almeno fisicamente abili, e q
...more
Nicole D.

https://thereadersroom.org/2016/08/26...

And then we came to the end … This is one of those books that can only be fully appreciated by getting to the end. It’s complex! I was so confused in the beginning and distracted by the fact that it starts out with an Editor’s Note which states that certain historical facts have been twisted to fit the fictive universe, and then goes on to say that one of those “facts” is that JFK had 7 attempts on his life, and the “Genuine Assassination” happened in Sept
...more
Anya
Jul 27, 2016 rated it did not like it
I'll preface this review by stating that this wasn't the worst book I read this year. However, I only forced my way through because I am a completionist.

Now it might seem, from the synopsis, that the book might be interesting - hmmm, an alternative history involving vets who are drugged into forgetting their past war traumas. However, I found the story dull, the plot in many places utterly implausible (view spoiler)
...more
juliemcl
Sep 08, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: pub-2016
Frustrating. Rooted for this book up until about page 200, but then felt like I was getting punked. It's a big mess. David Means is a highly-lauded short story writer and this is his debut novel. In fairness, the bulk of this book is a novel-within-a-novel written by a character named Eugene Allen, who is a very messed up 22-year-old Vietnam vet, and this Allen character at the very end acknowledges that he knows he's written a mess. So really it's the framing device, what little of it there is, ...more
Adam
Aug 13, 2016 rated it it was ok
This has the gooey, meandering prose of a P.K. Dick novel, & the existential confusion of one of those middling Dalkey Archive Press titles about a confused guy in Eastern Europe that only me & 30 other people (half of whom are reading this review) actually read.

The high-wire conceit here --the literal displacement of trauma-- is in pretty desperate need of some taut prose.

This is probably the 38th or 39th best Vietnam novel I've ever read.
Jen
Jul 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars reviews are up on our blog as part of our Man Booker feature. Check out how we all rated it:

https://thereadersroom.org/2016/08/26...

This was book number 5 and in what must be a first, I have very much liked/loved all 5 so far. Hystopia had a rocky start for me but I ultimately loved it.
Derek Allard
May 31, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book hooked me in the first 20 or so pages and I was excited to read it ... but when it gets into the novel within a novel, which is most of the book, it just falls flat. Perhaps I should have started with one of his short story collections.
Bex
i really enjoyed this!! my favourite man booker nominee so far and more than likely a reread at some future point in time.
Santiago Eximeno
Fascinante... y al mismo tiempo mortalmente aburrida. 100 páginas menos y me habría parecido una obra imprescindible.
Krista
Sep 03, 2016 rated it liked it
War reports: The siege of Hue dragged on as the Marines struggled once again to take what was left of the Citadel. Jason Williamson – a.k.a. the stoned reporter – filed nightly radio reports in a drug-dreary voice that was oddly comforting. His modus operandi, which had won him a Pulitzer, was to be on the ground as stoned as possible and to catch a new perspective, to offer up reports steeped in the language of visions. He was on the so-called wire, or outside the wire, or near the wire, filin
...more
Lindaanne
Apr 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hystopia is a rollicking, brilliantly conceived reverie that takes place in an apocalyptic post-war (Vietnam) USA, specifically the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. It's really a book within a book, based on the post-suicidal ruminations of the introverted sensitive Eugene Allen. As a proud survivor of the Vietnam era and all that entails (spiritualism, drugs, existential angst, et. al.), I absolutely loved the nostalgic vibe of the book. My only problem is the limited and misogynistic vi ...more
Jaclyn Crupi
Jul 27, 2016 rated it liked it
Alternate history meta-fiction is not what I usually go for at all but I really enjoyed this. Means explores therapeutic amnesia (in a completely different way to Ishiguro in The Buried Giant) as he reimagines 1960s America and its involvement in Vietnam. It's a book within a book but still accessible. I won't pretend that I understood this book completely and it being 'in conversation with Homer's Iliad,' as stated on the back cover. I'm not even completely sure what that means. This is David M ...more
Dree
Aug 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: unreadable
This alt history novel features some great ideas--Kennedy survived the first assassination attempt, the Vietnam war has gone on for years, PTSD is now treated with "enfolding". Enfolding involves drugs, reenactment, and results in everything key to the traumatic memories being hidden within the brain like a nugget.

So it could be really interesting. But this reads like a "guys book" (hey dude!). The writing is meh. The story is all about the guys (Meg is written as something the guys talk about,
...more
Kris Fernandez-Everett
Good idea, terrible execution... Wordy in places for the sake of having words -- which by default makes it repetitive -- and at various times, fails to elevate the mundane or cliched into something meaningful... Most annoyingly, Iggy Pop likely won't see a dime from this book even though his name is taken in vain throughout it. Save yourself a couple of hours -- cue up 'Raw Power' on your stereo, and you'll experience the same themes without the tedium of over-inflated prose. Glad I finished so ...more
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The Mookse and th...: 2016 Longlist: Hystopia 18 62 Oct 06, 2016 12:19AM  
ManBookering: Hystopia by David Means 28 104 Sep 13, 2016 12:36AM  
  • The Lost Time Accidents
  • Gone with the Mind
  • Every Anxious Wave
  • Underground Airlines
  • Join
  • The Journalist
  • Square Wave
  • The Origin of the Brunists
  • The Big Sheep
  • The Suicide Exhibition (The Never War #1)
  • How to Set a Fire and Why
  • And Again
  • The Last Days of New Paris
  • The House of Daniel
  • The Subprimes
  • The Reactive
  • Head On (Lock In, #2)
  • Zero K
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David Means (born 1961) is an American writer based in Nyack, New York. His short stories have appeared in many publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, and Harper's. They are frequently set in the Midwest or the Rust Belt, or along the Hudson River in New York.
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