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September 2, 2014

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Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America

by Brain Francis Slattery. Tor, $16.95

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A scarily of-the-moment premise here, for a piece of speculative fiction: The American economy implodes, the dollar becomes worthless, government disbands, nothing works, chaos reigns, and, while the world looks impassively on, the U.S. disintegrates into criminal syndicates, hostile tribes, nomadic bands and worse. Tomorrow’s headlines today!

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  • Liberation excerpt read by T.R. Witcher
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Yet Liberation isn’t a bleak, nihilistic trudge; this isn’t The Road. (The galloping cadence of the subtitle will have clued you in to that.) Author Brian Francis Slattery is, in fact, a big-hearted fabulist with a deeply comic-humane vision. And so the novel teems with people, ghosts, music (Slattery is particularly brilliant at this), flesh-eating performance artists, characters with names like Maggot Boy Johnson, love and betrayal, violence and death, a cosmic force called the Vibe and, everywhere, the past repeating as either tragedy or farce: The New Sioux ride their reclaimed plains; another Mexican-American war rattles Texas; a busload of hippies regroove the ’60s; worst of all, slavery rises again. Through these ruins move the Slick Six, a once-legendary band of criminals now determined to reabolish slavery.

It is, as you imagine, a wonderful book.

Slattery’s use of language will be most often compared to Thomas Pynchon’s, the way it suddenly zings into the head of a nearby character, explores his past, foretells his future, then shifts points of view yet again. In one stunning scene, Maggot Boy Johnson is watching a boxing match in New York when he sees the ghosts of Indians and Dutchmen gather to complete the purchase of Manhattan, the transaction that began generations of white subjugation of the brown. But Slattery’s prose is lighter and fleeter than Pynchon’s, without the dense allusions that require Talmudic dedication to unravel.

One of the many pleasures of Liberation is Slattery’s off-kilter vision of the post-crash future. Cities revert to their basic essences: New York hums with commerce and corruption; Denver becomes a horse-and-buggy town; LA actually improves so much that the laid-back poor pretend to riot to keep the remaining power brokers from coming in and mucking it up; and Vegas becomes party central. Everyone is desperate to shuck their personal histories, to live outside the world’s history, to achieve weightlessness. And some, including a few you’ve come to care about, more or less do.

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