BIG IF

Mark Costello, Author . Norton $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-05116-2

Costello's second novel, the first under his own name (he published Bag Men as John Flood), may well be the literary discovery of the season. Organized around the presidential campaign of an unnamed vice-president who is barely glimpsed, Costello shines the plot light on the man's Secret Service guard. In Costello's America, the citizenry has given up on politics except as sort of a minor holiday; passionate political commitment belongs primarily to potential assassins. The Dome (the Secret Service's nickname) is headed by Gretchen Williams, a black single mother from L.A. haunted by the specter of riots. Her crew contains two veterans of the Reagan years: Lloyd Felker (a "protection intellectual" and the founder of the Dome) and Tashmo, a '70s-style philanderer suffering through the waning of his adulterous impulses. There's also the "diva of Protection," beautiful, horny Bobbie Niles, and heroine Vi Asplund. Vi comes from Center Effing, N.H., where her father, Walter, was an atheist Republican insurance adjuster. Vi joined the Dome after Walter died (the compliment at his funeral from an arson squad cop was that "no one could read scorch marks like her father"), and Jens, Vi's brother, works for Big If, an interactive fantasy role-playing game company. Jens is suffering a crisis of cyber faith: his code is beautiful, but the end products are literally monsters. Costello moves easily between riffs, with a truly magical feeling for insider's knowledge—how a cop sits at a bar, how a real estate agent spiels a sale, how an insurance adjuster analyzes damage. Costello might be this season's Jonathan Franzen, a dazzling literary novelist with popular appeal. (June)

Forecast:With this author's talent, his connection with David Foster Wallace (they co-wrote a nonfiction book, Signifying Rappers) and a blurb from Jonathan Franzen, Costello is poised to capture literati fancy.

Reviewed on: 04/29/2002
Release date: 06/01/2002
Genre: Fiction
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