"Like the wonderful Bear v. Shark, U.S.! is a mad contraption of a novel, an encyclopedia of all our rich American armamentarium of bullshit, cant, ad copy and hyperbole (including the blurbs on book jackets). But this one carries secret reserves of heartbreak and ruefulness that propel it farther and deeper into the reader's imagination." -- Michael Chabon
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Art meets Politics: Both win.June 18 2006
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In one chapter of this brilliantly satiric novel, Upton Sinclair has lunch with a favorite novelist, E.L. Doctorow, -- and upbraids him for letting art get in the way of politics in his novels. This encounter captures a key theme in the novel: the role of the artist in society. And since the real Sinclair had little or no literary talent himself, as Bachelder makes comically clear throughout the novel,the famous muckraker's position might seem more than a little self-serving, but the beauty of this book lies in the complex manner in which Bachelder refuses to set up Sinclair as an easy target -- no pun intended, for the fictional Sinclair is assassinated repeatedly by anti-Socialist "patriots," only to be resurrected each time to carry on with his quixotic attempt to foment revolution against capitalism -- instead Bachelder portrays both the virtues and the flaws of a talentless and exasperating but committed ideologue who believes in the power of words to promote reform. In the hands of a lesser writer, this zany plot -- complete with outlandish complications like publishing agents recruiting Sinclair assassins and 4th of July book burnings -- would quickly turn into one-dimensional entertainment, but Bachelder raises the stakes by constantly shifting the tone from near burlesque to moments of quiet poignancy, while exploring the dark underside of our American notions of fame, political faith and family loyalty. Equally adept at portraying the adolescent boy who wants to please his father by lighting the annual book burning bonfire, the rising assassin looking to make a name for himself, and the weary secretary trying to save his writer-hero from yet another shooting, Bachelder never fails to capture the humanity in this large cast of misfits, zealots, sellouts, blind optimists and failures. But unlike the sometimes cold cynicism of other writers who address similar themes, Don DeLillo, for example (a writer whose work I greatly admire nonetheless), Bachelder offers us a most sympathetic understanding of the all too human forces that keep hope for change alive while parading it through the streets with a target on its back. This book deserves more attention; Bachelder is the real thing. He can sling the politics in ways so entertaining, artistic and provocative that Upton Sinclair and E.L. Doctorow would be honored to make a space for him at the same table. He's that good.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Thank God Political Satire Isn't Completely DeadAug. 7 2006
Randall L. Wilson
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U.S. is a refreshing and original political satire. It could have taken its subject, the undead Upton Sinclair, seriously. It could have simply used him as an obvious stand-in for the moribund American left. But instead Chris Batchelder makes him a complex character who appears to be based largely on the facts and writings of the real life Upton Sinclair. That person was a likeable but flawed, ridiculous, puritanical yet courageous and compassionate man; part crackpot and part saint but all American.
The larger function of this character is to point out the current bankrutpcy of American politics. How it has no ideas, no passion, no commitment just plenty of hype, gloss and spin. But if someone like Upton Sinclair can keep his hope alive that idealism matters, that all people have dignity and deserve respect and a decent wage for their labor, then maybe all is not lost.
The book is divided into two distinct sections. The first is a series of rifts on how popular culture would respond to the idea of Upton Sinclear existing as an eternal target for the American Right. There are several inventive and hilarious setpieces; a series of haikus, an interview with a photographer of a naked Upton Sinclair, a transcript of a phone call by a would-be assassin. The second half is pure narrative driven by a malevolent prank and the Upton Sinclair's naivete. The conclusion is funny, sad and terrifically satirical. If you need a therapeutic tonic to cope with the absymal state of idealism and the American left, this should do the trick.
Upton Sinclair rises from the deadApril 12 2010
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Chris Bachelder is a lovable prankster who likes to turn the nicely fitting glove of literature inside out. while the rest of us are looking for meanings and various forms of significance in the interior decorating of conventional fictional devices--to this day, we all yearn to have poets and novelists to tell us The Truth-- Bachelder prefers to spray paint on the props and show us the cluttered backstage of these settings. And better yet, he rather likes in tying the shoelaces together of the pompous, the serious, the bizarrely sanctimonious. "U.S.!" has him imagining a world where the true believers in an American Socialist Revolution manage, through some vaguely revealed ritual of magic realism, to bring the dead activist novelist Upton Sinclair back to life; back to life the poor, steadfast, solemn socialist does, looking increasingly awful and putrid at the edges, going on the lecture trail, writing and publishing more of his cardboard narratives, trying to convince an amazingly uninterested citizenry the exact nature of what's killing them. Nothing comes of this, as expected, and the intrepid Lewis finds himself talking himself hoarse , only to find himself being killed violently and then ingloriously resurrected yet again. A surreal fish-out-of-water story, Bachelder has a perfect ear for duplicating the static prose of the late novelists, and excels at demonstrating the striking contrasts between those who think that literature can make populations shed their entrenched and deeply rooted versions of Bad Faith and rise to the selfless cause of The Common People; this is a story of where the idea of the progression of history toward a final and just time, intersects with a culture where history does not end anywhere at all. Rather, it splits off into many tributaries, a crossroads every five metaphorical miles. Sinclair Lewis, tragicomic figure he is, stops at each of them, scratching his head as to which road to take
Strange But ExcellentNov. 16 2006
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Definitely one of the stranger books I've read this year, but also one of the best. To a certain degree the book is limited by it's central gimmick -- real-life Socialist muckraking writer Upton Sinclair (about whom the reader need know nothing) keeps returning from the dead to spread the good word about the working man's struggle for a decent life. He "keeps" returning from the dead because every time he comes back, there are glory-seekers determined to put him back under in order to protect America from godless Socialism. If this sounds like some piece of strange science-fiction, well, it kind of is. But it's mainly a satire of the contemporary American political scene, with Sinclair standing in for the far left. But even more than that, it's a very clever and funny piece of satire -- which is rare indeed.
Bachelder wisely recognizes the limitations of his premise, and thus engages it in a very loose manner by riffing on it in lots of different formats. There is a running storyline concerning this iteration of the undead Sinclair, as he moves around the country aided by his secretary/personal assistant, holing up in remote cabins to write, and making clandestine visits to underground meetings. However, sprinkled into this are letters from Sinclair to his son, Amazon.com reviews of some of Sinclair's 90 books (most of which bear the dreaded "Be the first to review this item."), transcripts from a 1-800 "I Saw Sinclair" hotline, hilarious memos (including one from Sinclair to NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabule about the need for instant replay), a reading list and syllabus for a writing course taught by Sinclair, newspaper editorials, interviews, an eBay auction listing (for a bullet that killed Sinclair), song lyrics, and other such artifacts of popular culture.
As we learn more about Sinclair, we also learn more about the cult of celebrity that has arisen around his killers. Indeed, the main story thread leads Sinclair toward a small town celebration (he thinks it's to honor him, but it's actually to burn his books), where the country's top Sinclair hunters (many of whom have been hired by corporate interests) hope to bag him. There's a great little subplot about the grizzled old veteran killer vs. the brash young upstart. There's another subplot involving Sinclair's folk singer son which suffers a bit from underdevelopment.
But beneath all this, there's a clear message -- the bumbling, almost unbearably earnest, permanently outraged, ever-pedantic Sinclair is a symbol of all that's wrong with the American left and yet paradoxically, also what's right. Although Sinclair's neverending sub-mediocre writing is mercilessly skewered throughout the book, his dogged dedication to (and faith in) an ideal is both touching and ultimately inspiring. This is another major theme of the book, the intersection of art and politics, and the difficulty faced by the artist who dares to mix the two. Bachelder's book manages the tricky task of both doing this and commenting on it at the same time, while shifting ably between slapstick comedy, family pathos, blind zealotry, pop culture riffing, and even moments of quiet reflection. This is both an entertaining and excellent novel.
Bear v Shark v Upton Sinclair!Sept. 5 2006
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Take this into consideration what if a bear and a shark and Upton Sinclair fight it out in a tank of water deep enough for the shark to maneuver efficiently, shallow enough to give the bear an even chance to hold its own, and large enough to hold Sinclairs inflated socialist ideals. Who would win?
Chris Bachelder returns to the ring after his debut novel, Bear v Shark, found its way into the hands of readers not too long ago. That novel was a wonderful mix of humor, poignancy, and Chris' style of what I like to call "chapter concepts" He takes your basic novel structure but instead of just telling the story in a straight forward manner he will use various different storytelling concepts in each chapter. In one chapter you may get a poem, or a television interview, and in another chapter you could simply get a listing of ebay auctions. Its a brilliant way to view his themes and characters from different points of view.
In his sophomore effort Chris Bachelder refines his techniques and tightens his themes for a novel that somehow manages to surpass the simple yet wonderful Bear V Shark. Again he comes in with a concept that seems rather absurd, muck raker Upton Sinclair continues to live on through an unexplained method of resurrection. Used as a tool for the left he lives on to spread his beliefs in socialism and the evils of capitalism. Bachelder never shows bias he simply portrays the man as he was and how he would adjust to this day and age.
I am ashamed to admit I knew very little about Mr. Sinclair going into the novel and trust me this is not a dull protagonist. He's akward, ambitious, and has the drive of a young man despite his frail dying body. The novel makes me wonder what would happen to Michael Moore if he found a way to live on. What happens to ones causes over a long period of time? Does change ever truly happen? Must we lose hope if the answer to that question is no? You won't get an answer after reading U.S.! but you will certainly get a little closer to forming one of your own.
A gem that has just happened to take the form of a book.