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.