BOOKS & TALKS
Two Debut Portland Authors Win Raves from the New York Times and NPR
David Shafer’s 'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot' and Chris Leslie-Hynan’s 'Ride Around Shining' just might be the reads of the summer, according to the national arbiters of taste. Both authors read at Powell’s this week.
Here are the highlights from the national news sites, with quick blurbs about the books from our Summer Reading List. If these things always come in threes, will Chelsea Cain's new One Kick series be the next breakout?
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
by David Shafer
In an outlandish story about a not too outlandish future, an online oligarchy is about to privatize all information. The only resistance is an idealistic set of rebels called Dear Diary and three friends struggling with thirtysomething problems. Hailed as a major debut, WTF is the technothriller Edward Snowden might have dreamed up if he had an absurd sense of humor.
Is it too late to nominate a candidate for novel of the summer?
What puts this novel across isn’t its lucid, post-Patriot Act thematics, however, as righteous as they are. Instead, it’s that the storyteller in Mr. Shafer isn’t at war with the thinker and the word man in him; he’s got a sick wit and a high style. Reading his prose is like popping a variant of the red pill in “The Matrix”: Everything gets a little crisper. The sunsets torch the horizon with increased fire…
This sort of narrative can tip, very easily, into a crude outline for a mediocre Tom Cruise or Matt Damon movie. (Note to Matt Damon: Make this movie anyway.) Mr. Shafer doesn’t let this happen.
Aug 6There’s too much offbeat humor. Where are the resistance force’s nighttime dormitories? In the showroom bedrooms at Ikea stores. In one climactic scene, these characters are chased through Powell’s, the venerable Portland bookstore. When it’s time for a Schwarzeneggian action movie catchphrase, this novel’s “Hasta la vista, baby,” here’s what’s coyly delivered: “I told you that you shoulda voted for Nader”…
Mr. Shafer has written a bright, brash entertainment, one that errs, when it errs at all, on the side of generosity, narrative and otherwise. It tips you, geekily and humanely, through the looking glass.
Ride Around Shining
by Chris Leslie-Hynan
This rookie scores with a dark tale of a white, hipster chauffeur and the Portland Trail Blazer he works for—and fixates on. Rarely have the spheres of racial politics, Portlandia, and basketball collided with such uncomfortable intensity. Plus, you can play “Guess the Blazer” from the deadpan descriptions of off-court antics.
NPR’s Fresh Air:
This novel about nouveau-riche excess, social class and hero worship references The Great Gatsby on practically every page, beginning with Jess' retrospective Nick Carraway-like narration, as well as that premise of a white chauffeur driving around his rich black passenger — that's a scene that mirrors the famous "Queensboro Bridge" passage in Gatsby.
But Gatsby isn't the only Great Book that Leslie-Hynan cites: There's a bit of Othello lurking in a subplot about the scheming Jess' crush on Calyph's white wife, Antonia. And, in Jess' tall tales about his own background and the wily way he sets in motion an accident — via ice sculpture — to sideline Calyph early in the novel, the Ripley stories by suspense master Patricia Highsmith spring to mind.
Aug 8Sometimes, all this breathless literary sampling overwhelms Leslie-Hynan's own voice and plot, giving his story a contrived final Jeopardy question feel. But in its calmer, more assured moments, Ride Around Shining lays claim to being an interesting novel on its own terms, offering some fresh takes on those big American topics of race, class, manhood and meritocracy…
That's a rousing affirmation of American possibility, but because Ride Around Shining is so cleverly retracing Gatsby's doomed route, we readers are clued in that there's a limit to what even the most high-flying basketball player here is going to achieve. Ride Around Shining is an often provocative read: It wouldn't be my first-round draft pick, but it's got game.