By Margaret Wappler
June 7, 2009
A Possible Satire
292 pp., $13.99 paper
It doesn't take a paranoid mind to fret over our state of hyper-marketing. Every Gatorade we buy at Vons, every Bed Bath & Beyond card we've registered for, every pop-up ad we've accidentally clicked on (only to be infested with spyware) is fed into some mass accounting of our habits, pleasures and vices.
Right now, a hungry publishing marketer might be scanning this, hoping to spur a little casual consumerism, the "impulse buy" that's actually deeply plotted at the Barnes & Noble counter. (It's a bit creepy, yet we'd be vaguely insulted if said marketer passed right over us.)
Advertising is but one of the many saturation points that Lee Konstantinou voraciously exploits in his debut novel, "Pop Apocalypse," cheekily billed as "a possible satire." The author was once a technical writer at Oracle. That'll teach an observant mind a thing or two about the corporate complex.
One of the book's touchstones is Alex Shakar's finely wrought 2001 satire of the marketing gestalt, "The Savage Girl." But while Shakar deftly limned his dystopia, Konstantinou paints in broad comedic strokes. It is the year 2029 on the eve of the apocalypse -- politically and mortally but not necessarily economically. The barely thirtysomething novelist employs his Mel Brooks-meets-Marshall McLuhan approach with enthusiasm, skimming over the murkier bogs of the politics-marketing nexus.
The problem may lie in his unapologetically shallow protagonist. Eliot R. Vanderthorpe Jr. is a spoiled rich kid with a taste for salacious partying, but underneath the drugs a moral conscience hums. A disappointment to his famous evangelical-mogul parents, Eliot is cut off financially and forced to survive on his celebrity name as a publicly traded commodity. The problem is that Eliot's public fights with his girlfriend, and other broadcasted spectacles, make money only in the short term. The market is not only fickle but also judgmental: As one's reputation plummets, so does the price of his shares.
Some of Eliot's most rep-damaging stunts occur in Berkeley,occupied by the Freedom Coalition, a military action combating PEN, a "populist anti-capitalist movement." Both evoke Bush-era euphemisms such as "Operation Enduring Freedom." But unlike it did in "A Clockwork Orange," the terminology never truly weaves itself into the narrative. Nor does it stand out like the icily expert sentences J.G. Ballard cut in "Super-Cannes," his 2001 book of murder and deviance in a corporate zone.
Konstantinou doesn't only tackle the marketing monster, he also throws in celebrity culture, right-wing politics, the Middle East's eternal state of conflict and some astute analysis of hipster fashions.
His best skill is his imagination. The book is so breathless with concepts that the prose too often serves merely as a delivery device and his characters suffer. One hopes he'll soon add some restraint. When an aged Paris Hilton shows up in your book, it's best to either edit her out or zoom in so close that we see something new.
Wappler is a Times staff writer.
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