cover image Deus Ex Machina

Deus Ex Machina

Andrew Foster Altschul, Counterpoint, $14.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-58243-601-2

Rarely has societal critique come with more mayhem than in Altschul's second novel (after Lady Lazarus), but perhaps extreme times call for extreme measures, especially when reality television is on the skewer. Television's The Deserted follows 10 contestants forced to trek through a merciless island environment, while, behind the scenes, an unnamed producer wonders how, after 12 seasons, he can turn around a ratings slide and retain control of the show. As The Deserted degenerates into outright warfare, one cast member, Gloria Hamm, refuses to take any action at all, even toward her own survival, and the producer becomes convinced that an island cave holds the key to the out-of-control production and the path to the Promised Land. Standards of reality and the price of playing God are certainly on Altschul's mind, but the key to this novel is banter, the petty, almost hypnotic nothings that eat away at the business of life until we begin to identify with Gloria's refusal to fight for it. Though Altschul's brand of Juvenalian satire can grow tedious in its zaniness, as an anarchic assault on the dehumanizing power of media, it excels at fighting excess with excess. (Feb.)