cover image U.S.!


Chris Bachelder, . . Bloomsbury, $14.95 (305pp) ISBN 978-1-58234-636-6

In his second satiric novel, following the hilarious Bear vs. Shark (2001), Bachelder supposes that muckraker Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle , has the power to repeatedly rise from the grave, "oft-resurrected and oft-assassinated" by his followers and foes. A haggard and bullet-ridden Sinclair symbolizes the bedraggled American political left (making a triple entendre of the book's title). In Bachelder's present-day America, capitalism-loving smalltown residents fear a Socialist uprising spurred by the mediocre novels Sinclair continues to publish. Sinclair assassins (such as three-time killer Huntley and crazed young upstart Billings) make the cover of Time and write bestselling memoirs. The first of the novel's two main parts comprises a funny, though gimmicky, series of Sinclair ephemera, including a bile-filled book review, transcripts from the Sinclair-sighting telephone hotline and "Professor" Sinclair's writing workshop syllabus instructing students to "write socially engaged, morally outraged fiction with unambiguous endings." Part two is a gripping narrative in which an anti-Socialist book-burning becomes the converging point for Sinclair , his forlorn folksinger son Albert, competing assassins and a 12-year-old convert to liberal politics who may be the crumbling left's best hopes. Readers require no knowledge of the historical Sinclair to relate to Bachelder's bumbling, endearing idealist grandpa in this entertaining though uneven sophomore outing. (Feb.)