Saturday, April 07, 2007

Just Read: The Unbinding by Walter Kirn

This is a short novel, originally serialized on Slate and written while it was being published. I've read Kirn's earlier novels Thumbsucker and Up In the Air (though I avoided his last novel, Mission To America, about a bunch of Mormon missionaries), and I loved this cover -- and the book was very short, always a good thing -- so I gave him another try.

It's something of a noble failure, since it doesn't quite work the way it should. There are great sentences, paragraphs and even chapters, but the whole thing fizzles a bit by the end.

It feels slightly SFnal, though it's set in the present day -- it's told entirely in electronic communications (blog posts, tape-recorded reports, intercepts, and so on) from three points of view. Two of them are to become a fairly conventional boy-girl couple, but the third is a federal agent surveilling both of them for some ill-defined purposes.

(The whole book is about surveillance and electronically mediated communication, in somewhat superficial and not clearly thought-out ways.)

The back cover copy focuses the story on one of the viewpoint characters, a young man who works for a company that's something like OnStar, though covering one's entire life. He and the surveillance guy (who calls himself "Rob,"practically announcing it as an alias) have interesting stories, and could have used a bit more space. The young woman in the middle, unfortunately, gets squeezed out of the book by them, and never really develops -- she stays "the love interest" even in her own side of the story.

Again, this doesn't quite come together, but it's interesting. One can clearly gather than Kirn does not like the Patriot Act. (Does anyone in the literary world?) It might be worth reading for people interested in the ideas, but I'm not completely sure it's worth paying for -- especially when it's still available on Slate for free.

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