Monday, August 25, 2014

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

The NY Times book critic Dwight Garner suggested that David Shafer's Whiskey Tango Foxtrot might be the "novel of the summer." A well-written paranoid near-future thriller with a sense of humor? That sounds like my dream summer escape novel, and I'll confess, Shafer had me by the balls for the first 200 pages or so, which is about 50 pages longer than Donna Tartt did with her overpraised The Goldfinch. But somewhere right around page 212 Shafer jumps the shark, and the book kind of fizzles.

What went wrong? First, the book's appealingly flawed heroes are battling an evil conspiracy that amounts to thinly fictionalized versions of Google and the NSA working together to corner the information market. Sure, it's scary, but if you follow the headlines I'm afraid it's also a bit ho-hum. Second, Shafer does satire better than he does suspense or sci-fi. So when it comes time for the plot to really kick into gear, he has to tone down the funny, and his writing loses its edge. Third, there's what happens on page 212, when a certain woo-woo element is introduced to the plot. I won't give it away, but suffice to say that here's where attention to the hard sci-fi could have helped a lot. The Google conspiracy is highly believable because it is highly realistic. So to introduce something really weird is jarring unless you can convince the reader it has some minimal plausibility. No attempt is made. Maybe we will learn more in the sequel. And a sequel there must be, given the unsatisfying and inconclusive ending of this novel. Harrumph.

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