America Fantastica

Mariner. Oct. 2023. 464p. ISBN 9780063318502. $32. F
For his first novel in 20 years, O’Brien (The Things They Carried) has penned a wild take on the contemporary malady of “mythomania,” or misinformation and delusion. Boyd Halverson, a journalist disgraced for playing fast and loose with the truth, now manages a small-town California JCPenney. He also manufactures right-wing misinformation on the internet. One Saturday morning, he commits a bank robbery as part of a plan to exact revenge on his former father-in-law, Jim Dooney, whom he blames for his downfall. During the robbery, Boyd takes an overly talkative teller, Angie Bing, as a hostage. The two eventually become uneasy allies on a road trip seeking Dooney, all the while pursued by two people: Randy Zapf, Angie’s ex-boyfriend and a small-time criminal who imagines himself a much bigger operator, and Henry Speck, a bumbling hitman hired by Dooney’s former business partner. (Henry is related to serial killer Richard Speck.) Boyd and Angie’s misadventures take them from California to Mexico, Texas, and Minnesota, and finally back to California.
VERDICT O’Brien’s comic touch leavens what is at heart a grim vision of a society infiltrated by political lies that ultimately multiply until they come to fill the whole of American life.
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