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Turn of the Century: A Novel Paperback – July 11, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Everyone will compare Kurt Andersen's scathingly funny first novel to Tom Wolfe's fictional debut, The Bonfire of the Vanities. Like Wolfe, Andersen is a merry terrorist, a status-attuned assassin with liquid nitrogen in his veins, a prose style with the cool purr of an Uzi, and the entire society in his crosshairs. And like the Man in White's protagonist, Sherman McCoy, Andersen's George Mactier is a master of the contemporary universe--not just Manhattan, but decadent post fin-de-siècle Hollywood, the globe-gobbling, infotainment-tainted news media, and cyberspace from Seattle to Silicon Valley to Silicon Alley.

Turn of the Century opens in February 2000, in a bizarro world with just a tangy twist of futuristic extrapolation. George has parlayed a Newsweek writing job into a PBS documentary into a $16,575-a-week job as a producer at the sinister MBC network. His series, NARCS, is a veritable Cuisinart of fact and fiction in which the actors get to participate in real drug busts and get all the best lines, since they're working from scripts. In the most notorious episode, the dealer they arrest turns out to be an Actors Equity member (thanks to Rent), so he gets union scale and a recurring role.

As George stumbles into a Wolfesque calamity spiral, his wife, Lizzie Zimbalist, ascends to power. Lizzie is a brilliant software entrepreneur: her "force-feedback technology" alternative-history game can sense players' fear. "If you travel to 1792 Paris, for instance, you are designated a besotted peasant or a frightened aristocrat or an angry sansculotte according to your heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance; too many twitches, the wrong sort of palpitation, and you're a marquess (or marchioness) headed for the guillotine." Needless to say, her insights into the year 2000 earn her bigtime interest from George's boss and Microsoft. Lizzie is a character at least as vivid as George, and their hectic family life is uncloying and acutely observed.

Andersen's plot (involving Bill Gates's potential death) has more hairy turns than the Hana Highway--read carefully or you'll go off the road. But you're guaranteed a wild ride with amazing characters: an irreverent investor inspired by James Cramer, a hilarious MBC toady, Timothy Featherstone--who's as marvelous a creation as Tony Curtis in The Sweet Smell of Success--and worlds' worth of social caricatures. Kurt Andersen has an uncanny ear for the way we talk now and Turn of the Century is sharp, knowing, and subversive. Let's all pray that it isn't prescient as well. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A blockbuster fiction debut for media insider Anderson (formerly editor-in-chief of New York magazine, co-founder of Spy), this brilliantly conceived, keenly incisive social satire draws fresh humor out of the overhyped territory of millennial madness. Beginning his myopically futuristic novel on February 28, 2000, Anderson employs a future-present tense in which he mischievously tweaks current attitudes regarding marriage, friendship, the mass media, Wall Street and the computer industry, just to name a handful of his numerous targets. With ferocious energy, he also captures the essence of New York, Las Vegas, L.A. (its permanent sunniness, annoying and even slightly scary after a while, like a clowns painted-on-smile) and Seattle (... like a gawky guy with a great body whos bald and stammers and wears dorky clothes). These are not new topics for mockery, but Andersons eye is fresh and his irony carries a potent sting. George Mactier, executive producer of a controversial TV series called NARCS, and his wife, Lizzie Zimbalist, owner of a computer software company, serve as Andersons 21st-century poster couple. They are self-conscious enough to recognize the embedded ironies in their fast-paced, high-profile lifestyle (Lizzie voted reluctantly for Giuliani twice, but spent election day giving a five-dollar bill to anyone who happened to ask for money, as penance). Their already troubled marriage is being vaporized by the hysterical pace of their respective professional lives. The couple have three cyber-precocious children (Lizzie e-mails her sons bedroom from the kitchen to announce dinner), as well as a host of eccentric friends (Ben Gould is a multimillionaire investor whose latest venture is a Vegas theme park called BarbieWorld) and colleagues (Harold Mose, the egomaniacal owner of the MBC Network, becomes both George and Lizzies boss). The convoluted plot boldly defies summary, but it ultimately achieves a mad convergence highlighted by an intricate, hilarious plan to manipulate Microsofts stock by virtually killing Bill Gates. Anderson employs a biting topical humor that is always exaggerated, yet seldom actually seems inconceivable (the cover story in Teen Nation, an offshoot of the Nation magazine, is headlined: Jimmy Smits and Jennifer Lopez in Mexico: This Revolution Will Be Televised). Cell phones and computers are ubiquitous, but the vaunted Information Age is illusory at best. The characters are constantly thrown off kilter by disinformation, missed information and miscommunication. Yet while the tone is hyperbolic and beyond the cutting edge, the core issues are curiously old-fashioned: love, ethics, friendship, even happiness. Anderson brilliantly sustains the comic pace throughout the lengthy narrative, though his ultimate message may be disappointing to millennial idealists: The future aint what it used to be. Major ad/promo; first serial to the New Yorker; BOMC selection; author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reprint edition (July 11, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385335040
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385335041
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.4 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,318,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

KURT ANDERSEN's latest book is True Believers, a novel about youth, secrets, lies, politics, love and James Bond.

His previous novels are Heyday, winner of the Langum Prize for Historical Fiction and a New York Times bestseller, and Turn of the Century, a Times Notable Book and national bestseller. He's also the author of Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America. In addition, he is host and co-creator of the Peabody Award-winning public radio program Studio 360.

As an editor, he co-founded Spy and Inside.com and Very Short List, and served as editorial director of Colors and editor-in-chief of New York. He has been a cultural columnist for The New Yorker and Time, as well as Time's architecture and design critic. He has also created television specials and pilots, and written screenplays and stage plays. He currently contributes regularly to Vanity Fair, Time, New York and The New York Times.

He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the author Anne Kreamer.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Rachel Cohen on February 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is one of those books that buzzes in your head for weeks after you've read it. "Turn of the Century" is loaded with dazzling riffs and observations about contemporary life, of course, but the people in it are equally memorable and sharply drawn. You really start to see folks you know in light of characters from Andersen's novel. ("Oh, he's a sort of Timothy Featherstone type," I found myself saying of an acquaintance.) The satire -- of the worlds of media and entertainment -- is unsparing, and yet the book has surprising warmth. Andersen has pulled off something remarkable here: a 21st-century version of Trollope's "The Way We Live Now." It's really true: the novel is stippled with present-day counterparts of Augustus Melmotte, Sir Felix Carbury, and the rest of Trollope's immortal cast. As with Trollope, Andersen's essential humanity infuses the book with a sense of worldly compassion. (Tom Wolfe seems tinny and shrill by comparison.) "Turn of the Century" is a novel that will make you laugh out loud, without feeling bad about it later. I can't remember when I've had a better time with a novel, or learned so much along the way.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jon Fain on December 8, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Anderson has done some admirable heavy lifting to present a just-in-time, high concept, bullet train of mild satire and cleverness. It takes awhile get used to and wade through the topical references to events, people, places, and things, both real and vividly imagined, that five years from now will make this novel seem like it was written in a dead language. Readers seem to have widely differing opinions about whether the characters are compelling,it's funny, etc. If you don't have any interest and affinity for the Fast Company/Hollywood/Web culture you'll hate it. I'm familiar enough with the worlds of the novel (at the grunt level anyway) to get the jokes and admire the imagination. But if you want a book that deals deeper with whether we lose our "soul" and connection to others by what we do for work, try JR, by William Gaddis (an author whose movie rights Anderson's character Ben Gould buys up in one of his "charitable" schemes). Overall, Turn of the Century is a too-long, although often amusing piece that relies so heavily on a reader's existing knowledge of the scene that I found myself holding the characters at arm's length. I prefer being a little more intimate.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I don't know why this novel had to be 659 pages! Starts out with a bang. Loved how the author drew me into the techno/media word with the cool jargon, like Doug Coupland's GENERATION X, but unlike GEN X, this book was waaaaay too long and all the hip-slick-cool language grew tiresome and the characters grating. I didn't feel for Lizzie or George and their gimme-gimme lives and by the end---yes I read the whole damn thing, brought it to the beach with me and had no other reading material---secretly hoped that George's plane was going to crash en route to Mexico! Wouldn't recommend reading it unless you have alot of time to waste...life's too short!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Martin Johannes Møller on August 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
"Tour de force" is no doubt an adequate label for this book. Kurt Andersen's first novel is a gigantic feast on "the modern" in the high lanes of today's American business. It is constantly entertaining indeed in a "Tom Wolfish" way. But you can sense a certain freshness in Andersen's book that you can't find in works like A Man In Full. The dialogue is more catchy and somehow it's structure has greater appeal to a young reader than myself than that of an (please excuse me) old-timer like Tom Wolfe. If you were to use a musical expression you could say that this book consists of a magnificent longwinded accelerando. The intensity rises for some 700 pages +. But there are things that Tom Wolfe juggles smoothly and sometimes bites vigorously that Andersen doesn't really try to take hold of in "Turn of The Century". The milieu is portrayed slightly superficially and the social critique seems a bit vague. A harsh judgement would be that this is more entertainment than fiction. But that would also be too harsh. Kurt Andersen has written a very smart, VERY entertaining and very long book. It marks a very impressive debut - but I await even greater nourishment from his hands. I give it three big stars.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chris Patrick Morgan on March 26, 2001
Format: Hardcover
This 600+ page endeavor in tedium has quite a few clever and witty observations about the current state of media, technology, etc., but is undone by the author's endless tone of self-congratulation and his complete inability to MOVE THE STORY ALONG. The plight of George and Lizzie is secondary to all of Andersen's cheeky observations and endless descriptive dreck. There's no sense rehashing the plot because there really isn't one. For a story intending to portray life in the modern fast lane, so little seems to actually happen, and it's hard to care about any of the characters since they serve mainly as props and time-killers in between the author's next clever zinger. Most of the time, the author's supposedly keen insight into the 21st century is no more than well-dressed but thinly-veiled cliches (this is particularly prevalent - and annoying - when the author shifts the setting out of New York City to the West Coast and shows his complete ignorance of anything outside the 212 area code), and you get the distinct impression that the author is writing just to hear himself talk. Fresh and invigorated at the start, it doesn't take long for Turn of the Century to wear thin and dwindle to a boring, lethargic crawl. All in all, a very disappointing read, since I was always a fan of his work in Spy Magazine. This is precisely the kind of "hip, cutting edge" fiction - with it's media barbs and heavy handed approach to social satire - which would fool critics into thinking the author really had something to say.
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