Adam Begley

Fast and furious: America Fantastica, by Tim O’Brien, reviewed

As the avalanche of lies issuing from the White House morphs into the pandemic, Covid becomes in an engine of justice in this rollicking satire on Trumpworld

Tim O’Brien [Alamy]

It’s been said again and again but rarely so plainly illustrated: American life is now too berserk for fiction to keep up. Tim O’Brien’s wild, rollercoaster satire America Fantastica is as wacky as its title suggests; but it can’t compete with the daily trainwreck that calls itself the land of the free and the home of the brave. O’Brien tracks with furious contempt the spread of a highly contagious illness: mythomania and delusional conspiracy theories infecting the body politic and poisoning a defenceless citizenry in the dark pre-Covid days of 2019. The name ‘Trump’ is never mentioned in the novel, but the ‘avalanche of oratorical whoppers’ issuing from the White House is the obvious source of O’Brien’s raging dismay.

The hero (or anti-hero, depending on your tolerance of moral slipperiness) is Boyd Halverson, a compulsive liar struggling mightily to kick the habit, who robs the community bank in a small town in northern California in order to make some changes in his life and shrug off a debilitating bout of lethargy. ‘He had grown sick and tired of synthetics, rayon in particular.’ Boyd absconds with $81,000 and the lone bank teller, Angie Bing. Like all self-respecting criminals, he heads for Mexico – with Angie in tow, semi-willingly kidnapped.

Described as diminutive and ‘cute’, Angie is cloyingly ‘spiritual’ yet ruthlessly opportunistic. She steals the show with her relentless motor-mouth perkiness. A ‘yapping dwarf’ is what one bystander calls her, but she’s the perfect foil for Boyd, who mostly drinks and mumbles monosyllables. Back stateside, they embark on an obscure cross-country hunt for Boyd’s former father-in-law. Hot on their trail is Randy Zapf, Angie’s murderous, dim-witted boyfriend. Jilted and jealous, he intends to do something excruciating to Boyd using needle-nosed pliers.

The cast expands apace, each new entrant zanier than the last.

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