cover image RADIANCE


Carter Scholz, . . Picador USA, $24 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-312-26893-0

A tinted review in adult Forecasts indicates a book that's of exceptional importance to our readers, but that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.

RADIANCECarter Scholz. Picador USA, $24 (400p) ISBN 0-312-26893-9

Set in an intrepid nuclear weapons research and testing station in the middle of the desert, complete with protest banners and swinging police truncheons, this wannabe political satire treads all too familiar ground, despite the talented Scholz's inventive, high-energy prose. Leo Highet, director of the lab, derides his colleagues and hopes to build an incredibly powerful weapon, dubbed Radiance. Working under him is x-ray expert Philip Quine, harassed by public outcry and political backbiting on all sides, his sense of inconsequence so massive he can neither produce adequate research nor think critically about the dubious work he is doing. In the parking lot outside the facility, he meets a protester and falls in love with her; at home, he fights with his girlfriend, who is cheating on him. Meanwhile, defense spending rolls ahead, but the development of Radiance is unaccountably stalled. What is fascinating here is Scholz's stylistic knack for creating a clipped system-speak, derived from the blips and burps of conversation. Relations between characters are cold and unfulfilling, and character development is registered only by the protagonists' sudden shifts in situation: without much ado, they are hired and fired or start affairs and end them. Scholz's writing crackles with energy, intelligence and dark humor, but readers will recognize tones and topics heavily based on Pynchon, DeLillo et al., and wish Scholz had struck out a little farther on his own. (Feb.)

Forecast:A strong endorsement from Jonathan Lethem should attract a cultish audience to this promising if unsatisfying debut.