New in the Stack: Banana Republican, Ether, and The Oregon Experiment

As always, the stack overfloweth. Here are a few of the more interesting titles that have landed at Biblioklept International Headquarters recently.

Banana Republican is the first novel by historian Eric Rauchway. The book is a send up of American Imperialism in the 1920s, satirizing the naked greed, corrupt capitalism, and ugly jingoism that infused the rise of the global economy. Fortunately, all of these ills have left American foreign policy forever, right? Satire! Seriously though, Banana Republican looks to the past to reveal that our current foreign debacles are merely an extension of policies that have been around for decades. The protagonist is Tom Buchanan (yes, that Tom Buchanan, the racist football-playing, mistress-slapping lout of The Great Gatsby). Rauchway sends Buchanan into the fiasco of American intervention in Nicaragua in the early 20th century. In an interview with The St. Petersburg Times, Rauchway points out how this scenario allows for an exploration of the American dream from a decidedly different viewpoint than the one we find in Fitzgerald—-

People always see Gatsby as the novel about the American dream. But the character who represents that dream of upward mobility ends up floating facedown in a swimming pool. Tom Buchanan represents the real American dream: having it all and not having to suffer the consequences. I wanted to get away from the somewhat suspect view of the narrator in Gatsby and let Tom speak for himself. . . .

I was interested in writing about the irresponsibility of American foreign policy, so if you take Tom Buchanan in the 1920s, where are we? We’re in Nicaragua. When you look at American foreign policy, in Europe we do pretty well. In South America, not so much. And there’s that tradition in places that are on the edges of empire: Dissolute people get to go there and act badly and no one calls them on it.

Evgenia Citkowitz’s Ether collects seven short stories and a novella, all united by psychological and emotional complexity. Citkowitz’s characters explore moral dilemmas as they quest for identity, and if that sounds like the stock of contemporary fiction (which it is), the prose, terse, often chilly, and darkly funny, is what set these apart. Here’s Ligaya Mishan, reviewing the hardback edition last year in The New York Times

Citkowitz’s book is peopled by mothers and fathers who are fumblers at best, unrepentant alcoholics at worst. A few are simply absentees, like the father of Beatty, the British schoolgirl in “Leavers’ Events,” who is omitted from family suppers, “disqualified by his status as a heroin addict.” The girl’s mother, a high-level fashion editor, is hardly more present. The only grown-up in Beatty’s life who actually behaves like one is, oddly enough, the rakish novelist she invites to the opera. After initiating a lazy seduction, he wisely thinks better of it. Again, Citkowitz flouts expectations: her heroine may be momentarily crushed, but soon she has moved to New York, ascended the editorial ladder at a chic magazine, landed her own office and effectively supplanted her mother — a modern-day Electra.

Ether and Banana Republican are both new in trade paperback from Picador.

In his promo vid (below) for The Oregon Experiment, author Keith Scribner suggests that, “It’s a novel that explores the ways in which the political, the social, the personal, the domestic are inseparable.” Those are some pretty grand claims, so here are the details: The Oregon Experiment recounts the story of Scanlon and Naomi Pratt, a couple who move from the East Coast to Oregon, where Scanlon begins his first tenure-track job as a professor who studies radical action mass movements. Naomi was once a “genius nose” who worked for perfume companies, but she’s lost her sense of smell; she’s also pregnant with the couple’s first child. Scanlon quickly becomes enamored of Oregon, and becomes particularly intrigued by local separatists and anarchists; Naomi’s nose returns, but she isn’t quite as thrilled as Scanlon about the new scene (particularly Scanlon’s enchantment with Sequoia, leader of the secessionists), although she does connect with Scanlon’s young subject Clay, an anarchist. Scribner propels his novel with ideas rendered in crisp, realistic dialogue. The Oregon Experiment is new from Knopf.

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