cover image The Mirage

The Mirage

Matt Ruff. Harper, $25.95 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-197622-3

Genre buster Ruff (Bad Monkeys) takes the reader through the looking glass into a world where a union of benevolent Muslim states (the U.A.S.) guards against Christian fundamentalist terrorists trying to spread fear and unrest. After the terrorist attack of 11-9-2001 on towers in Baghdad, the story proper begins in 2009, as Homeland Security Agent Mustafa al Baghdadi, witness to the original attack, nearly dies confronting a suicide bomber from Texas named James Travis, aka “the crusader.” The crusader survives the attempt, and his claims that their world is actually a polar opposite distortion of the truth sends Mustafa spinning. Ruff’s exposition to establish the situation is impressively simple: clever, inventive entries from “The Library of Alexandria, A User-Edited Reference Source” are peppered throughout, tweaking Wikipedia and appearing just when readers (or sometimes characters) need them. Among other entries, one finds a long biography of Saddam Hussein, “philanthropist, novelist... and Iraqi labor organizer”; an explication of the “Miranda Warning” rights of U.A.S. citizens; and a chronicle of the 40-year reign of Lyndon Johnson, described as the President of the Christian States of America (C.S.A.) who was born in the Evangelical Republic of Texas; his “Mexican Gulf War” of 1991 pitted Louisiana against an OPEC-backed Texas. Beneath this dubious verisimilitude lies a truth that gives Ruff’s work a sharp satiric bite. As to the book itself, it’s as traditional in its story as it is unconventional in its premise, with a full cast of characters and narrative arc. As the plot thickens, the ideas keep coming, with Ruff revising the history of, among other things, the gay rights movement, David Koresh, and Timothy McVeigh. This is both entertaining and provocative, exactly what the best popular fiction should be. Agent: The Melanie Jackson Agency. (Feb.)