cover image Red Pill

Red Pill

Hari Kunzru. Knopf, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-4514-9371-2

Kunzru’s powerful latest (after White Tears) follows an unnamed Brooklyn writer who lands in Berlin for a fellowship at the Deuter Center in 2016. What’s supposed to be a writing retreat and a way to get past the creative block he was experiencing amid a midlife crisis, however, soon turns into an escalating disaster. The Center’s strict policy that residents share workspace clashes with the writer’s need for isolation, driving him to binge-watch Blue Lives, a cop show. Trouble begins when the narrator grows fascinated with the show’s persuasive nihilistic worldview, thus triggering his anxiety that his own work is futile and irrelevant. The novel takes a bizarre turn when the paranoid narrator has a chance encounter with the Blue Lives creator, Anton, a smug, alt-right ideologue. Obsessed with confronting Anton about Blue Lives’s pernicious message during the increasingly divisive U.S. presidential race, the narrator plows headlong down a self-destructive path. A subplot narrated by a cleaning woman who lives with memories of being controlled by the Stasi doesn’t quite tie together with the rest of the goings-on, but Kunzru does an excellent job of layering the atmosphere with fear and disquietude at every turning point. This nightmarish allegory leaves the reader with much to chew on about literature’s role in the battleground of ideas. Agent: Jonny Geller, Curtis Brown Group. (Sept.)