A scary, funny novel—a riff on recent history and the American obsession with assassination.
It's winter in New Hampshire, the economy is booming, the vice president is running for president, and his Secret Service people are very, very tense.
Meet Vi Asplund, a young Secret Service agent mourning her dead father. She goes home to New Hampshire to see her brother Jens, a computer genius who just might be going mad—and is poised to make a fortune on Big If, a viciously nihilistic computer game aimed at teenagers. Vi's America, as she sees it in the crowds, in her brother, and in her fellow agents, is affluent, anxious, and abuzz with vague fantasies of violence.
Through a gallery of vivid characters—heroic, ignoble, or desperate—Mark Costello's hilarious novel limns the strategies, both sound and absurd, that we conjure to survive in daily life.
Costello's second novel, the first under his own name (he published Bag Men as John Flood), may well be the literary discovery of the season. Organized around the presidential campaign of an unnamed vice-president who is barely glimpsed, Costello shines the plot light on the man's Secret Service guard. In Costello's America, the citizenry has given up on politics except as sort of a minor holiday; passionate political commitment belongs primarily to potential assassins. The Dome (the Secret Service's nickname) is headed by Gretchen Williams, a black single mother from L.A. haunted by the specter of riots. Her crew contains two veterans of the Reagan years: Lloyd Felker (a "protection intellectual" and the founder of the Dome) and Tashmo, a '70s-style philanderer suffering through the waning of his adulterous impulses. There's also the "diva of Protection," beautiful, horny Bobbie Niles, and heroine Vi Asplund. Vi comes from Center Effing, N.H., where her father, Walter, was an atheist Republican insurance adjuster. Vi joined the Dome after Walter died (the compliment at his funeral from an arson squad cop was that "no one could read scorch marks like her father"), and Jens, Vi's brother, works for Big If, an interactive fantasy role-playing game company. Jens is suffering a crisis of cyber faith: his code is beautiful, but the end products are literally monsters. Costello moves easily between riffs, with a truly magical feeling for insider's knowledge how a cop sits at a bar, how a real estate agent spiels a sale, how an insurance adjuster analyzes damage. Costello might be this season's Jonathan Franzen, a dazzling literary novelist with popular appeal.