2 A.M. in Little America

Ken Kalfus. Milkweed, $25 (248p) ISBN 978-1-57131-144-3

Kalfus (Equilateral) returns with a subtly provocative dystopian story. Ron Patterson, an adventurous young man living in a vaguely autocratic unnamed country, works a menial job inspecting rooftop security systems. While atop a skyscraper, he observes a nude woman through a window and hatches a plan to meet her. Part of the thrill of Kalfus’s engrossing story is in how he pieces together the details of his near-future world: America has “fallen,” and it’s not clear how; Ron pretends to be Canadian when meeting new people; and the streets are overrun by gangs. After a brief affair with Marlise, the woman Ron saw from the roof, he moves from one country to another, eventually settling in with fellow expats in a region he thinks of as “Little America,” which, like the old America, is chronically polarized and sometimes dangerous yet still feels like home. The slide into totalitarianism accelerates, as evidenced by a student protest that’s violently quashed by the military; citizens are so used to turmoil that it barely registers. Ron’s immersion in this changing country becomes an obsessive search for answers about the past, with everyone he meets reminding him of better days and triggering an aching nostalgia, which Kalfus makes emotionally charged. This low-key effort gradually takes hold on the reader. Agent: Christy Fletcher, Fletcher & Co. (May)
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