cover image Madness is Better than Defeat

Madness is Better than Defeat

Ned Beauman. Knopf, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-35299-4

In this rowdy, thoroughly satisfying literary adventure, Beauman (Glow) takes readers deep into the jungle of Honduras. An eclectic Hollywood film crew sets out to film on location at a mysterious Mayan temple, but they arrive to find that another group of Americans got there the day before and is disassembling the temple in order to take it back as a trophy for their wealthy benefactor. There is a standoff between the two groups: the days turn into weeks and the weeks into years. After 18 years, the two factions have turned into minisocieties acting out a sort of proxy war on behalf of their two backers. The extensive cast includes a relentless newspaper gossip columnist on one side and a burgeoning ethnologist on the other. Somehow, the film crew uses the silver they find to manufacture film stock from scratch and produce millions of feet of footage that ultimately end up in a secret government archive. Yet, the mystery that eludes both camps—and the reason secret agents are circling the situation—is what’s inside the temple itself. Exquisitely comic and absurd, Beauman’s imaginative novel brims with the snappy dialogue, vivid scenery, and converging story lines of an old Hollywood classic; it also says something essential about the nature of film and memory. Agent: David Forrer, Inkwell Management. (Feb.)