cover image Running Wild

Running Wild

J. G. Ballard. Farrar Straus Giroux, $12.95 (116pp) ISBN 978-0-374-25288-5

Thirty miles outside of London lies a suburban utopia called Pangbourne Village, an exclusive residential development in which all the houses are new, the security system is impeccable, parents are happy and children are provided with a nonstop roster of structured activity. But fans of Ballard's High Rise , in which he turned an apartment tower into a warring miniature city, will recognize his dim view of fabricated societies. Indeed, in his eerie new novella's first moments, Pangbourne's 32 adults are found murdered, and the complex's 13 children, all but one of them teenagers, have vanished. Written as a police psychiatrist's forensic diary, the story unfolds as an investigation that quickly points to the children themselves as culprits. Though the author sketches a sharp portrait of complacent privilege in Thatcher's England and tells a provocative story with a jolting final twist, the explanation of a carefully coordinated plot among the youths--``in a totally sane society, madness is the only freedom''--is unduly glib. At just over 100 pages, that's really all there is to it; this is, in every sense, a minor work by a major writer. (Nov.)