Monday, November 07, 2005

Parasites Like Us by Adam Johnson

This first novel is crazy in all the best ways. It's a perfect example of what I call exuberant writing: writing that is so wildly imagined, so much the creation of its author, that it seems as if it must have been written in a manic fit of inspiration. Now the reality, I suspect, is it was written in daily toil as most novels are--but like some books I mentioned previously--Eyre Affair, Lives of the Monster Dogs, Harry Potter--it is so imaginative that it seems like it must have been fun to write. What I'm really saying is it's fun to read. It's not a tour-de-force of character development or even plot, but every page is rich with observation and an incredible attention to detail. The premise is North American humans have largely gone extinct and one of the remaining survivors is going to tell us why. But instead of the tone being apocalyptic (as in Atwood's Oryx and Crake), it's satiric. Johnson was a student of Ron Carlson's (the beloved) as an undergraduate and the novel reads to me as if one of Carlson's narrators bred with the narrator of Don DeLillo's White Noise and they entered a setting by Vonnegut. But the novel is a good example of influence rather than imitation. These other authors show through, but the book feels entirely Johnson's own. Perhaps the key to this is the blending of several influences rather than following only one.

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