cover image The Terrible Threes

The Terrible Threes

Ishmael Reed. Atheneum Books, $16.95 (180pp) ISBN 978-0-689-11893-7

Reed's jazzlike, surreal phantasmagoria is set in the late 1990s, in an America where millions of surps (homeless people) forage for food, while U.S. President Jesse Hatch is a figurehead manipulated by televangelist Rev. Clement Jones, his spiritual adviser. The former president, ex-fashion model Dean Clift (star of The Terrible Twos , this novel's predecessor) has been removed from office but will soon stage a comeback. Among the convoluted subplots, two drive the action: White House communications chief Robert Krantz's ``lone cowboy'' scheme to drop neutron bombs on New York and Miami, then place the blame on Nigeria; and billionaire toymaker Elder Marse's plan to exploit the charisma of dwarfish Rastafarian Black Peter. Reed's uproarious, wisecracking, deadly serious farce swings between the inspired and the heavy-handed, but when he is on target, which is much of the time, he is one of the sharpest socio-political satirists around, hurling pointed barbs at racism, the CIA, women, the Vatican, the New York literary crowd and Americans' demand for instant gratification. (Mar.)