Wednesday, December 31, 2008


From today's Detroit Metro Times:

The Gone-Away World
By Nick Harkaway
500 pp., $25.95

Readers of a certain age and above are familiar with the chilling, kill-'em-all concept of mutually assured destruction: the idea that if one nation armed with nuclear warheads attacked another, the resulting domino-effect would effectively render our world uninhabitable, assuming anyone or anything survived the fiery, man-made cataclysm. A horrific possibility to contemplate, yes? But what if worse weapons existed? Bombs, say, that effectively erased matter but left a void in its stead that cracked open a gateway for an other-dimensional substance that rendered our mental and nocturnal terrors real.

Wonder no longer, because The Gone-Away World does that for you. This debut doorstopper — 500 pages deep — from UK author Nick Harkaway follows a team of ex-Special Operations soldiers-turned-drivers-for-hire as they navigate this ruined world of half-formed monsters, mythical creatures, soldiers beamed in from bygone battlefields, and a long length of pipe emitting a spray that creates a zone of sustained reality. This isn't the grim post-apocalyptic Hades of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, though; Harkaway's tale is blackly comedic and lighthearted enough that the full weight of the titular catastrophe doesn't quite register. Twenty expository, overdescriptive pages pass, then the writer yanks us back in time to the unnamed narrator's youth to reveal how everything came apart. That's a long, winding highway that encompasses every story genre from buddy-movie tropes to undergrad activist hoo-hah to espionage thriller to Manhattan Project moment to martial arts flick winks, but — until World turns into a variation on Fight Club — the unlikely journey is more fun than the fucked-beyond-fucked destination and a denouement that feels cruelly perfunctory. Which is fine, actually. Harkaway's quicksilver tongue-through-cheek prose — post-David Foster Wallace, post-Dave Eggers, tastily postmodern — is the primary reason why. Passages like this one are monuments in and of themselves: "I wear skintight black PVC and white foundation and I glower and mourn the death of Byron in the back of the bar. From there I discover punk, and briefly have no hair at all, then am mistaken for a fascist by a group of businessmen who proceed to celebrate my bravery and drink my health, and driven by this horror I grow it out again."

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