Karl Taro Greenfeld’s new novel, The Subprimes, practically writes itself. The book, although a parody, is just barely fictional.
The Subprimes takes place in a grim future disquietingly redolent of the present. In the alarmingly plausible picture
At moments like this, Greenfeld’s prose is sharpened to a fine and fatal point. The results are often uproarious but barbed. In one memorable passage, Arthur, inept as ever, tries to explain energy independence to his daughters over an expensive lobster dinner:
“Energy independence is when, when we drive our cars or fly in a big airplane, or we cook those lobsters, you need gas or oil or something, and we want to cook that stuff ourselves, not let the Arabs or Chinese cook it for us—”
“Or Mexicans—” Ginny said.
“Exactly, or Mexicans. Because Americans, we want to cook our own food.” Arthur wrinkled his brow. “Or no, we don’t want to do that. But we want to have our own fuel to cook our food.”
But the book sometimes falls short of its parodic promise, too often wavering between unconvincing earnestness and convincing critique. In the mouths of Greenfeld’s caricatures, sincerity sounds like propaganda. “That’s capitalism…that’s the system we got. The big, the rich, the powerful, they can take whatever they want,” one character says. “For the first time in my life I may have found something I believe in,” a reformed cynic pronounces when the subprimes finally triumph to forge a bucolic, Rousseauian society.
For a work vivified by an electrifying rage, The Subprimes comes to an unsatisfyingly palliative conclusion. ......This admission of bafflement and ambivalence is more satisfying (and entertaining) than the sanctimonious and inspirational tone Greenfeld adopts at the end of the book.