Speaking of In the Mail, I thought I would bring this series up-to-date somewhat with a catch up post. So here are some interesting titles that came my way that I haven’t managed to read yet but for which I still hold out hope.
Memorial is an infinitely detailed, completely engrossing picture of modern America, and Wagner is a kind of geniusâ€”but itâ€™s not a fully human world. One senses, as Wagner yanks his characters around on their tracks or crushes them beneath his cruel wheels, a certain authorial sadism. Oftenâ€”this is possibly a trait he shares with his cityâ€”heâ€™s cruelest to the weakest. Watching them suffer can be almost unbearable, but Wagner doesnâ€™t turn away. In the end, Wagner tweaks his karmic system (the Hindu and Buddhist themes Wagner has explored in previous books are developed further here) to give everyone what he or she deserves.
Which is to say that this is a typical Bruce Wagner novel, and therefore it’s unlikely to greatly alter anyone’s opinion of his work. By now he’s a genre unto himself, and all of his conventions are at play: adrenalized, hyper-referential prose; ridiculous narrative coincidences, as much jokes on their own implausibility as storytelling crutches; long rants about the hideous cultural state of America, most of them unprintable here; characters who are jangled heaps of neurosis and rant; inklings of Buddhist detachment undercut by sneers at professional Buddhists with “West Side affluence”; lawsuits, lifestyles of the rich and famous and lavishly dropped names, in this case, celebrity architects; and savagely knowing dissections of high-end excess, perhaps best summarized by the “special black toilet paper from Spain” gracing one private jet’s restroom. “Memorial” is sometimes exhausting, often riotously funny and never embarrassed by the breadth of its rage.
The Ukranian Mob reportedly has 12 nuclear bombs for sale. Richard Scanlan, a former FBI superagent and currently head of a Vegas-based intelligence contractor, wants the U.S. to purchase the weapons before a terrorist group gets its hands on them. The government’s intelligence team discredits the reports so Scanlon decides to engineer the purchase on his own. To do so, he needs the help of superthief Brandon Vale, so he engineers Vale’s escape from prison. Vale’s not particularly interested in stealing nukes to save the world, but it beats prison. Mills layers his familiar doomsday theme with caper-novel particulars for a highly entertaining read in which the surprise is the twisted international political solution advocated by the president’s key foreign policy advisor. Mills entertains, but he’s also capable of keeping readers awake at night contemplating the terrifying vagaries of an increasingly dangerous world.
Jesse Breedlove descends into a church cellar in Omaha, drunk, with a spade, and unearths the skeleton of a little girl. Did he kill and bury her there? Did he see somebody else do it? Or is the discovery of the bones an accident? Whatever the answer, Breedlove knows in his own bones that he must care for the little girl’s bones lovingly. So he loads them in a tarpaulin and carries them away, “like the revelation of all his dreams.” The remainder of this short novel is narrated by 16 characters, most of whom come in contact with Breedlove as he drives cross-country, the bundle of bones by his side. Each character is touched, in more than one way, by the encounter. Nebraska native Vivian uses the spare, vivid language of a playwright, his primary metier until now. Readers who seek straightforward plotting in fiction may feel hijacked, but those who seek haunting prose and staccato insights into human nature from all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum will follow Breedlove’s journey willingly.