cover image The Subprimes

The Subprimes

Karl Taro Greenfeld. Harper, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-213242-0

When even a seemingly abstruse economic work like Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century becomes a runaway bestseller, it’s clear inequality is in the zeitgeist. Thus a work of fiction that tackles “this climactic age of American capitalism” head-on and takes its social and economic ills to satirical excess seems the perfect book of the moment—but this novel isn’t it. In Greenfeld’s (Triburbia) near future there are the few haves—the sort who fly the HeliJitney to the Hamptons and find solace in a right-wing preacher’s extreme gospel of wealth (“God wants us to have a big life, a gigantic life, a ten-thousand-square-foot-mansion-and-a-rib-eye-every-night kind of life”)—and the have-nots, a vast mass of “subprimes,” itinerant and dodging debtors’ prison for their low credit scores, who live out of cars and in tent cities built on once thriving middle-class communities. Sargam is a mysterious messiah-like figure who rides in on a motorcycle and establishes a thriving socialist community of subprimes, settled inconveniently atop drillable shale oil. During the inevitable showdown between “people helping people” and greedy corporate interests supported by a privatized police force, several flat characters have predictable epiphanies: the alienated journalist finds belonging and hope, and kids—weighed down by standardized scores and math homework—learn that playing outside is fun (“I have so rarely seen my children this free”). Though Greenfeld’s dystopian future does sound all too real, it’s true tragedy, as a novel, is that it is neither very funny nor entertaining. The people deserve more. [em](May) [/em]