A grisly racial murder in what news commentators insist on calling “the heartland.” A feeding frenzy of mass media and seamy politics. An illicit love affair with the potential to wreck lives. In his grandly inventive last novel, John Gregory Dunne orchestrated these elements into a symphony of American violence, chicanery, and sadness.In the aftermath of Edgar Parlance’s killing, the small prairie town of Regent becomes a destination for everyone from a sociopathic teenaged supermodel to an enigmatic attorney with secret familial links to the worlds of Hollywood and organized crime. Out of their manifold convergences, their jockeying for power, publicity or love, Nothing Lost creates a drama of magnificent scope and acidity.
The last novel of the late Dunne, who died in December 2003, reads rather like a smorgasbord of his previous nonfiction work doused with a heavy sauce of "ripped from the headlines" plotlines. The central narrative, which concerns the trial of Duane Lajoie for the supposedly racially motivated torture and murder of a black man, Edgar Parlance, in a Great Plains state referred to as South Midland, is garnished with observations (like the comment about Midlanders "with 56-inch waists, the product of bad weather, too little exercise, too much television, and too much sugar-saturated junk food") echoing Dunne's famous New Yorker story about the murder of Brandon Teena in Nebraska. Max Cline is a jaundiced ex-prosecutor gay, Jewish and unsentimental hired to be part of Duane Lajoie's defense team. Teresa Kean, Duane's chief attorney, is a former victims' rights advocate. Duane's legal fees are being covered by his half sister, Carlyle, a rich, famous and wildly spoiled model. The trial is an echt-American carnival of media bunkum, with the prosecutor's Ann Coulter esque wife, Poppy McClure, trying to milk it for political advantage; Carlyle using it as a career booster; Kean and Max trying to manage their over-the-top client; and Max trying to penetrate the cool surface of Kean's demeanor to reveal the secret that animates her. Dunne loads his story with wonderful phrases, but his satire of Midwestern yahoos and the various creepy and cretinous habits of the rich and newsworthy is a bit too dyspeptic to be penetrating. This fast read is a lesser coda to a career rich in better fictions, such as True Confessions. 50,000 first printing.