- Hardcover: 368 pages
- Publisher: Mulholland Books (July 28, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 031619851X
- ISBN-13: 978-0316198516
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.2 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 63 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Crooked Hardcover – July 28, 2015
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"Endlessly compelling . . . As eerie and absorbing as it is fantastically ludicrous . . . Grossman out-nuts the nut-jobs with a premise that's as outlandish as it is superbly conceived. . . . His details of Nixon's imaginary life-as well as those of his wife, Pat, and other contemporaries such as John F. Kennedy, Henry Kissinger and Ronald Reagan-are threaded into actual history with an intricate, clever and startling plausibility. . . . Crooked isn't simply a work of simple satire or wonky alt-history; it's a speculative character study that taps into truths about Nixon that may be more essential than literal. That is, when they're not deliciously absurd."―Jason Heller, NPR
"A cantering hodgepodge of American history, black magic and political satire . . . Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Washington-style."―Ron Charles, Washington Post
"Clever...[Grossman] creates an antihero as tormented as any Marvel or DC villain. A nuanced, funny and moving characterization of a man reviled during (and after) his term of office. A droll riff on 20th century politics. [Grossman has] impressive narrative gifts...those who love deconstructing the supernatural literary references in series like 'True Detective' and 'Lost' will find much to savor in 'Crooked.'"―Elizabeth Hand, Los Angeles Times
"Crooked is insightful, suspenseful and funny. . . . As secret histories go, Crooked makes more sense than many. Fans of either political skulduggery or Lovecraftian terror are likely to relish the novel's many dark pleasures."―Michael Berry, San Francisco Chronicle
"A wicked & wickedly funny thriller . . . Lots of dark fun!"―R.L. Stine
"The journey on which Grossman dispatches Nixon is a fun one, a Merry Pranksters bus driven by Saruman or Sauron in Lord of the Rings."―Ray Locker, USA Today
"A captivating parallel tale."―Entertainment Weekly
"Funny, intelligent . . . Intrigue and irony abound . . . Grossman has clearly done his homework on Nixon."―Chris Tucker, Dallas Morning News
"Crooked confirms and details the extremely esoteric and occult presence we always suspected lay at the heart of the Nixon administration. It's got spies, and political intrigue, and a sitting President spilling his own blood onto a pentagram hidden beneath the Oval Office rug, which is to say there are few of my buttons this book does not push."―John Darnielle, author of Wolf in White Van
"At once wildly imaginative and deeply intimate, CROOKED is a demonically fun political thriller. The brilliance of Austin Grossman is in making big stories personal, even when the big story is super-powered presidents and intercontinental necromantic missiles."―Max Barry, author of Lexicon
About the Author
Austin Grossman is a video game design consultant and the author of You and Soon I Will Be Invincible, which was nominated for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize. His writing has appeared in Granta, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times.
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Grossman's work suffers from an odd front-loading. The bulk of the book takes place during his early political career, as a Congressman, Senator, and Vice President in the Eisenhower White House. Though relevant, and full of the sort of creepy rising action that you might expect from a book that dips into the Lovecraftian mythos, these sections feel like a delay of the payoff we were promised from the excellent opening chapters.
When that payoff arrives, however, it is rushed. I had been hoping to see Nixon as the inheritor of the magic inherent in the American executive branch. He is, though not in the way a reader might have expected after the first chapter. I was hoping for occult adventures, after the style of Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Instead, we orbit on the fringes of an interesting story without ever landing.
By the end, I felt more frustrated than entertained. I was frustrated not at the book but at Grossman, who obviously has the writing chops to tell an engaging story, but chose to overload the appetizers and skimp on the main course. As I turned the last page, I was left with the distinct impression of having read the outline of an excellent book.
That's not to say that I found nothing to enjoy. Grossman succeeds extremely well at the atmospherics, painting a picture of existential dread mixed with a subtext of horror. And yet, he brought humor into the story in just the right places. His characterization is superb. We get to know Nixon extremely well, and witness his marital struggles with Pat. His relationship with Arkady and Tatiana is central to the book - perhaps too central? - but we are left with a feeling of them as real characters doing their best in an unreal world.
At the end of the day, "Crooked" is a taste of alternate history, a book that requires that much of the depth be supplied by the reader. Its strength is the ability to hint at a much larger and more encompassing story than what is told; its weakness is the inability to tell enough of that story to satisfy.
The book reads like "Nixon goes from Point A to Point B and then Point C" as the author hits the high points of press conferences and events. Yet, the plot is not tightly woven together; it remains thread-bare. The prose ain't superb; one is never lost in the author's writing style. Honestly, this would work better as a graphic novel.
Why did I finish this book? Desperate hope that it would get better. My mistake.
Yet the novel never quite follows through on its own promise. Supernatural elements--and Nixon actually exploring them or dealing with them--often remain too far in the margins for my taste. The narrative moves a little too quickly from one moment in time to another, sometimes jumping a few months ahead when I would've liked a little more time to explore the supernatural elements lurking there. While it can be detrimental in this type of story to pull back the curtain entirely from mysterious forces of darkness, I would have liked more of a peek than is given. Perhaps an over-zealous editor?
Nixon himself also lacks much agency after the earlier parts of the novel. He hears of things, is acted on by other people, and doesn't seem to do much but react. Certain important events Nixon only hears about, and a confrontation with a major antagonist toward the end is over so quickly that I had reread a couple of sentences to realize what happened.
Bottom line: I did enjoy a fair bit of the novel, but found the overall experience not quite as satisfying as I would have liked.
But man, oh man, this book completely dropped the ball in execution. While some books have a slow build, Crooked stayed lukewarm and occasionally glances at a simmer. I'm all for horrific manifestations a la Lovecraft that are more cerebral than the author physically fleshing everything out, but even on that level, Crooked is a bummer. I would have given it 1-star just for the writing itself, but I still can't stop myself for rewarding the author for the premise.