Unfinished Business – Hystopia

9780865479135_p0_v1_s192x300  David Means’ Man Booker Prize longlist finalist – Hystopia – begins with twenty-three pages of a fictional editor’s notes, and I was tempted to skip over them to get right to the story of John F. Kennedy’s fictional third term as President of the United States.  Yet, without these pages and those ending the book, which I read too –  interviews explaining the imagined new order created to deal with Vietnam veterans – the story does not make sense, but maybe it was never meant to make sense anyway.

Hystopia is a novel within a novel.  The fictional editor introduces and ends fictional author Eugene Allen’s story of John F. Kennedy’s continued presidency, until his assassination in 1970.  Allen, a veteran of the Vietnam War participated in a treatment called “enfolding,” involving the re-enactment of past events used with a drug called Tripizoid to repress traumatic war memories.  As a result, he eventually commits suicide, leaving behind his novel, “Hystopia.”

The dystopian landscape is sometimes hard to travel, with Kennedy’s Psych Squad, based in Michigan, hot on the trail of veterans not cured by the enfolding.   The character profiles offer no  relief: Rake, a psychopath who has kidnapped a young girl, Meg, the girlfriend of a soldier who served with Rake and was killed in Vietnam; Wendy , once in love with a veteran who lost his legs in the war and an agent in the Pysch Squad; and Singleton, a soldier who has been successfully enfolded, and cannot remember his trauma.

The book is a wild ride through the United States involvement in the Vietnam War, reliving the anger and its consequences.  This was a ride I couldn’t finish, and the idea of therapeutic forgetfulness is already working – the story and Michigan’s alternative universe  are already fading in my memory.

Maybe I don’t need to read all the long listed books for the Man Booker this year, after all.  Have you read this one?

The Man Booker Baker’s Dozen

Unknown The anticipated Man Booker Longlist announced today has a few familiar titles but some books are not yet published in the United States.  Thirteen books made the prestigious list.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, a satirical assessment of racism in the United States, tops the list.  The winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Beatty’s novel uses a Jonathan Swift premise in his character’s modest proposal to bring back segregation and slavery.

Four other American novels on the list include Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton.  The author of Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, Strout returns with a short but powerful novel as she tells the story of suffering and relationships.

Ottessa Moshfegh’s suspenseful tale, Eileen, also examines a lonely woman – this one works in a boys’ prison.  Virginia Reeves uses the setting of prison – this one in Alabama in Work Like Any Other, and David Means’ Hystopia imagines a third term for former President John F. Kennedy.

From the United Kingdom, another mother-daughter relationship is explored in Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk,  Graeme Macrae Burnet’s psychological thriller His Bloody Project looks for motivation behind a murder, Ian McGuire’s The North Water has a suspenseful journey of a  ruined doctor volunteering on a whaling ship, and Wyl Menmuir’s The Many has a strange mystery in a coastal village.

The Schooldays of Jesus from Australian Nobel prize winning author J.M. Coetzee will be published in the United States in February, 2017.  David Salzay’s All That Man, set in Prague,  will be published in October, 2016.

Canadian Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing centers on the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 China. From the United Kingdom, A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet offers “a day in the life of London lonely hearts.”  Both are not yet released in the United States.

Thirteen books to digest before the committee proclaims the short list in September, and the winner in October.