cover image Red Plenty

Red Plenty

Francis Spufford. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (448p) ISBN 978-1-55597-604-0

Though the intricacies of Soviet central planning may seem an unlikely topic for a work of historical fiction, Spufford succeeds at distilling the dismal science into a page-turner and using the unconventional vehicles of linear planning, cybernetics, communal agricultural policy, and exposition on the respective merits of Marx and Hayek (buttressed by extensive footnotes) to explore the entire range of human emotion. In his first work of fiction, Spufford (The Child That Books Built) mixes in a lot of fact, interspersing stories of functionaries in the Soviet economy—real, imagined and composites—with brief essays expanding on the topics raised by their plight. In the late 1950s, socialism seemed on the verge of triumph: the Soviet Union was growing faster than the United States, and its leaders expected to overtake the West in material production and provide its people with an unmatched standard of living (“Socialism would have to mimic capitalism’s ability to run an industrial revolution, to marshal investment, to build modern life. Socialism would have to compete with capitalism at doing the same things as capitalism”). This is the story of that effort, and its inevitable failure, on a scale as large as a nation and as small as one factory worker. Extensively researched and both convincing and compelling in its idiosyncrasies (despite the author’s admission that he speaks no Russian), this genre-bending book surprises in many ways. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Feb. 14)