Shakar's clever and provocative debut novel (following his short story collection, City in Love) is something of a genre-bender. Like certain SF tales, the story takes place in a futuristic present imperfect, where recognizable trends—Internet voyeurism and ecotourism, for instance—have morphed into their logical (or illogical) extremes, and even the setting, Middle City, is both familiar and fantastic. It's built on the slopes of a volcano, the most prestigious buildings situated on the volcano's rim; it even has a statue of God as well as of Manuel Noriega. Into this comic-book setting, full of vividly drawn, outsized characters, Shakar drops a perfectly normal heroine, Ursula Van Urden. Ursula, a would-be artist in her late 20s, has come to the city to look after her sister, Ivy, a model who very publicly tried to kill herself and has since been committed. She persuades Ivy's former boyfriend, Chas Lacouture, president and founder of Tomorrow Ltd., to hire her as a trend spotter, predicting fads so that savvy companies and advertising firms can exploit them. A homeless girl who hunts her own food and lives on the streets—the savage girl—becomes Ursula's first trend and the basis for a diet water (yes, diet water) marketing campaign. And Chas ensures that Ursula's schizophrenic sister becomes the product's spokesmodel. The plot then surges wildly ahead as deluded Ivy seeks boundless fame, Ursula seeks a decent life and Chas seeks his next fortune. What's best about this entertaining novel is the feast of ideas. Has too much irony been emitted into the earth's atmosphere? Is glamour a zero-sum game? Is there a paradoxical essence at the heart of every product? Who knows? But Shakar makes it fun to contemplate. National print and radio advertising; 6-city author tour. (Oct. 25)
Forecast:The ultra-gloss anxieties of young urbanites are on fetching display in this clever debut, and city sales—boosted by a six-city author tour and national print and radio advertising—should be brisk.