Book Review: Tales of a New America III

MC provides a third look at Gunther Roosevelt’s Tales of a New America:

Story (1 out of 5 stars): The concept of a “history” of the American continent fifty years hence is a subject that offers many potential avenues of exploration.  In the introduction to the work, we are promised twenty three “snapshots” of a “new society in the making”, a “panorama through time”.  Would that the work progressed in this direction!  Instead we are given loosely related and random vignettes showing nothing more than that the author knows how to quote St. Paul, and is very angry with leftists.  If we want to rightly mock the grievance-mongering heavily prevalent in modern fantasy/science-fiction, we should be careful that the works that we promote aren’t simply right-leaning paranoia/wish fulfillment.  In the first third of the work, when the author should be framing the story, we are instead treated to a seemingly endless list of the sins of liberalism.  For example, a general in the New American Army was orphaned at a young age, as his parents were raped and murdered by illegal aliens!  I imagine the author intended that only the mother was raped, but certainly Virginia could be a hotbed for homosexual illegal aliens. 

If one can stomach the tired airing of grievances, the work still confronts the reader with an array of jarring technical omissions and implausible leaps of faith.  In the third chapter, an intrepid border patrol agent at a crossing in the sleepy area of North Jackpot uncovers a Chinese spy (!?) through what has to be the most absurd made-for-crappy-TV interrogation in literary history.  Later on, when the plenipotentiary for the New American Republic is meeting the president of the (old) United States, the parties are able to immediately obtain a video conference with US weapons-inspectors conducting a tour of an NAR facility, and then after having providing the coordinates of hidden packages, sit back in satisfaction as the police forces across multiple cities IMMEDIATELY find the packages.  Keep in mind; these are the same police/government forces that couldn’t stop the creation of a billion dollar shale-oil drilling company a few chapters later.

Put simply, there is no story.  There is an endless array of complaints, biographical stubs, glossing over of inconvenient details, and just enough deux-ex-machina-ing to keep the story moving.  The work feels simultaneously too ambitious and too summarized.

Style (2 out of 5 stars): In addition to the issues detailed with story and character, the work is also a technical mess, full of typos, incorrect word usage and incorrect capitalizations.  The work screams for the attention of a competent editor.  One gets the sense that the reading quality of the work could be substantially improved through simple re-arranging of already existing sentences and phrases. 
Additionally, the very structure of the entire work misses quite wide of the mark.  A short story book should not try to be a novel.  Witness the approach of World War Z.  Similarly, a novel should not try to be a collection of short stories, as this work tries to be.  Instead of either a series of snapshots (as promised, but probably not intended) or a tightly scripted and unified plot, we get a story that bounces back and forth across twenty three chapters, trying to tell too many stories, and in the end, not telling much of a story at all. 

Characters (1 out of 5 stars): Perhaps the greatest weakness in Tales of New America is the atrocious development of characters.  There are no characters that are anything other than archetypes.  The “right-wing” characters are introduced, small biographies are provided, and they quote either St. Paul or Rochefoucald in convincing someone to work against their long-held beliefs before disappearing back into the ether until needed again.  The “left-wing” characters are similarly introduced, a few hideous character flaws are detailed or illustrated, they bemoan the suffering their own idiocy has pulled down upon their heads, and then they too vanish back into the ether.  Smooth talking pastors convince a council of Christian ministers that racial and religious discrimination is just hunky-dory.  The female government worker is of course single, and of course has three cats waiting for her at home (don’t worry about the fate of our forlorn feline friends, as they are saved when a community of neighbors who barely know each other spontaneously combine to organize a break-and-enter effort to feed the three of them).  The president of the (old) US can’t provide any defense for the policies of his country, because the NAR representative is just that much more forceful a personality than he.  A college football coach goes to a white recruit’s house and starts pontificating on how the NCAA is just a giant black conspiracy.

The endless quoting of historical figures quickly gets tiring; if there is a page with more than two sentences of monologue or conversation, you can bet your life that someone is quote-dropping.  St. Paul, Rochefoucald, Dylan Thomas, Bill Ayers (don’t ask), Jim Emerson, Abraham Lincoln and others make repeated appearances, peppering the otherwise drab dialogue with bon mots of historical significance. 

Creativity (2 out of 5 stars): The recent popularity of despair porn should tell against any work that attempts to tell the story of a collapse of the United States, but I’m not aware of any other work that blames the collapse on minorities, gays and the Star Wars program.  Kudos to the author for attempting what is, admittedly, an unconventional work.  The problem arises, as noted, when that explanation decays into clichés. 

Overall, Tales of New America falls short of the mark in every area.  Were it not for the commitment of writing the review, I might have quit this book around the third chapter (I see now, in reading Mr. Rhodes’ review that he has made the same point).  Tales of New America reads like a good rough-draft, a spark of genuine possibility in a pool of frustrating issues, rather than as the finished product it purports to be.  As an aspiring reactionary author who dreams of a work of popular fiction that could advance our ideas, I had such hopes for this upon reading the introduction.  Those hopes were quickly dashed by Mr. Roosevelt.