Man Bookering: Hystopia by David Means

hystopiaTitle: Hystopia

Author: David Means

Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux

Pages: 336

Summary (from inside flap): At the bitter end of the 1960s, after surviving multiple assassination attempts, President John F. Kennedy is entering his third term in office. The Vietnam War rages on, and the president has created a vast federal agency, the Psych Corps, dedicated to maintaining the nation’s mental hygiene by any means necessary. Soldiers returning from the war have their battlefield traumas “enfolded” – wiped from their memories through drugs and therapy – while veterans too damaged to be enfolded roam at will in Michigan, evading the government and reenacting atrocities on civilians. This destabilized version of American history is the vision of twenty-two-year-old Eugene Allen, who has returned from Vietnam to write the book-within-a-book at the center of Hystopia. In conversation with some of the greatest war narratives, from Homer’s Iliad to the Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter,” David Means channels the voice of Allen, the young veteran out to write a novel that can bring honor to those he fought with in Vietnam while also capturing the tragic history of his own family.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am currently attempting to read the entire Man Booker 2016 long list before October 25th, when the winner will be announced. So far I have read two of the thirteen, both of which I have written full reviews of – The North Water by Ian McGuire and My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth StroutHystopia by David Means is my third Man Booker read. I’ve decided to take a little break and read some other books before continuing with the long list, so this may be my last Man Booker post for a week or two.

“When I start to feel the urge to recite poetry, I know we’re about done for the day. And I feel that urge. In that war you had a superabundance of highly educated men in the trenches carrying a working knowledge of Greek and Latin, reading Hardy and Dickens, filled with a desire to capture in words the way a sunrise or sunset looked from the bottom of the trench, or the way it felt to do a stand-to at dusk or twilight. All we’re getting from this war is the desire to write rock-and-roll lyrics.”

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