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The Heap: a book review

As intellectually playful as the best of Thomas Pynchon and as sardonically warm as the best of Kurt Vonnegut, The Heap is both a hilarious send-up of life under late capitalism and a moving exploration of the peculiar loneliness of the early 21st century. A masterful and humane gem of a novel.” —Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

You had me at Pynchon and Vonnegut. But this also left huge shoes to fill for a debut novel. I inhaled this book in a day so it’s safe to say, those shoes were a perfect fit.

Synopsis:

Standing nearly five hundred stories tall, Los Verticalés once bustled with life and excitement. Now this marvel of modern architecture and nontraditional urban planning has collapsed into a pile of rubble known as the Heap. In exchange for digging gear, a rehabilitated bicycle, and a small living stipend, a vast community of Dig Hands removes debris, trash, and bodies from the building’s mountainous remains, which span twenty acres of unincorporated desert land.

Orville Anders burrows into the bowels of the Heap to find his brother Bernard, the beloved radio DJ of Los Verticalés, who is alive and miraculously broadcasting somewhere under the massive rubble. For months, Orville has lived in a sea of campers that surrounds the Heap, working tirelessly to free Bernard—the only known survivor of the imploded city—whom he speaks to every evening, calling into his radio show.

The brothers’ conversations are a ratings bonanza, and the station’s parent company, Sundial Media, wants to boost its profits by having Orville slyly drop brand names into his nightly talks with Bernard. When Orville refuses, his access to Bernard is suddenly cut off, but strangely, he continues to hear his own voice over the airwaves, casually shilling products as “he” converses with Bernard.

What follows is an imaginative and darkly hilarious story of conspiracy, revenge, and the strange life and death of Los Verticalés that both captures the wonderful weirdness of community and the bonds that tie us together.

Review:

A smartly written and original dysptopian novel for adults is not an easy book to find. Because we are adults, we have already sussed out every worst case scenario.

Or at least I have because I worry about everything. But one thing I did not have to worry about in this book was the trope of hurting children found in so many dystopian plots.

However, I now have something new to worry about because I never imagined living in a 500 story condominium-type building that would collapse. Where, not even a class system of outer units (with a view) and inner units (no view) could prevent the ultimate collapse of this 500 story society.

Or that it would be the middle class – the Dig Hands – that literally pulled the upper class out of a heap of trash.

The plot was sharp, the characters darkly witty, and each time I thought the author would take the easy allegorical way out, he leaned on satire instead; like The Making of The Mole People newsletter. This was published, prior to the collapse, when two much hated time zones were created to cut down on hallway and elevator traffic.

We all made it clear that we expected a reverse of the policy as quickly as possible. Instead, Mitner doubled down. He began to isolate groups of inner units throughout the Vert, reversing some delays, adding to others. Soon, the outer units – there were fewer of them than the inner units – all ran on “true time” while an inner unit might be in any number of different time zones. The result was not a population divided in half; rather, Mitner, whether he meant to or not, had developed and entirely unique twenty-four-hour culture.

I think that’s actually called Facebook.

But eventually, like us, the characters in the book liked these time changes and the 24 hour access to an impersonal life, right outside their doors.

I thoroughly enjoyed the glimpses into a prior life – provided by residents called “displaced travelers” who were away when the building collapsed. I would love to see a second book just on life prior to the collapse. And the survival, connection and disconnection between the two brothers would make a fantastic follow-up as well.

Or perhaps we are already all too familiar with that disconnected life – we just don’t live in a 500 story building with residents divided by the haves – the 1% – and the have nots.

Either way, it was fascinating to watch a society on the brink.

In addition to the societal and economic paralells, there were little points for the reader to pick up on, the veiled Tower of Babel reference in particular, that truly made this book unique. And please do not forget about the snakes: can they go backwards?

Can they?

My few issues: the author built an incredible world in a relatively low number of pages. I wished there had been a bit more detail and a few more characters developed. However, this did not detract from the overall experience and is my personal opinion.

If you are a fan of Kurt Vonnegut and/or Thomas Pynchon, then this book is for you. If you enjoy satire and dark humor, you will also enjoy this book. And if you are up for a truly unique dystopian book then give this gem of a book a go.

This was a fantastic debut novel and I cannot wait to read more from Sean Adams. This book is available in stores today!

Thank you to the publisher, William Morrow, and TLC Book tours for providing me a copy of this book to promote. This review is made up of purely my own thoughts, observations, and opinions. 

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