Customer Reviews: Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World: A Novel
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on November 15, 1996
This is one of those books that keeps doing its work long after the last word has been read. Antrim makes his art like he observes his life: contradictions galore. Mr. Robinson's loyalty to his wife and to his ideals regarding education don't seem as if they should fit within the general paranoid isolative nature of his community, and yet they do, in a very real way. Mr. Robinson attempts to make a real difference in his community while neighbors build vastly deep moats equipped with lethal spikes to surround their homes. There is a haunting similarity to the entire town's psyche here in this image, and Mr. Robinson is not immune to this. Characters seem to proceed with a wide knowledge of life and its intricacies, yet are unable to make the connections between things: to see how interest can breed obsession, how love can inspire violence. There exists the danger of falling through these cracks and understanding and this is indeed what happens.
The novel creeps toward an unsettling climax that you always know in the back of your mind is coming, yet can't quite let yourself believe it to be true. The cliched neighbor response to the latest small town horror on the six o'clock news comes to mind. "He seemed like a nice man. The perfect neighbor. Basically kept to himself." "Elect Mr. Robinson For A Better World" is touching and unsettling in the way that little art is and most life can be. Despite jacketflap trumpeting, few novelists seem willing to be brave enough to address the pockets of darkness that exist in the well-lit homes of the upper middle class. Don't expect the feel good book of the year, but if you're looking for something thought-provoking, this might very well be what you need to read.
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on January 4, 2014
Book reviews likely say more about the reviewer than the book. This is a masterfully written piece of innovative fiction. I just disliked it. Something about Mr Antrim's imagination while unique, is too dark and twisted for me. Not to say I don't enjoy a good dark read - Celine, the Patrick Melrose novels. Just not this one. I also found the stylistic choice of a single continuous narrative without chapter breaks, while very effective at creating a propulsive force, to be on balance a detriment to my becoming immersed in the novel as I did not have the luxury of reading it in one sitting.
5 stars for excellent fiction writing, 1 star for my dislike, hence the compromise 3 stars.
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on January 15, 1999
Antrim takes a small suburban community and removes the authorities which force it to be civilized. The result is a bizarre mixture of barbarism, fad culture and civilized neighbourly rivalry. I found it fascinating, entertaining and darkly funny.

What made it funny was that, despite the extremity to which the aspects of suburban living had been taken, it was all very familiar. The satire is sharp, but Antrim manages to express it as an insider telling a shared joke, rather than as an outsider taking pot-shots at another's culture.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Antrim's second novel, The Hundred Brothers, is also very good, but I think I liked Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World more.
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on November 23, 2001
Donald Antrim is a wonderful original writer who takes the novel to a new and dark place unlike any book you will ever read. Black humor mixed with painful insights on us all it explores the paradoxical world of insanity and real suburban life in a very funny way.
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on December 4, 2012
When I started reading this book selected by my book club I just thought it was strange, but I dutifully finished it. After reflection and our club discussion I found myself deciding I really liked it. Some of the black humor is hilarious, especially the part about using library books to try to detonate hidden land mines. But the book is definitely not for everyone. A warped sense of humor helps.
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on January 27, 2016
This is a strange book; it doesn't always work but it's never boring. Antrim is a singular writer. He doesn't necessarily write beautifully, but his stories are unusual, compelling, and thought provoking. He writes more about ideas and situations, and less about actual characters and places--which I think is a hallmark of the writer who doesn't want to descend into the emotional depths of a story. Nonetheless, if you've never read him, it's worth reading this relatively short book.
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on November 29, 1998
I imagine these folks giving "Mr. Robinson" five stars must be friends with Mr. Antrim; it's a good book, but puh-leeeez! Not five-stars-good. Like his cohorts Eugenides and Moody (and Wallace too, on a bad day), Antrim uses a certain amount of gross-out black humor(?) to separate his work from more mainstream prose. And I'm not complaining; I don't want to read Harlequin Romances. But I read this thing in 1998, years after it was published; and while I still feel a visceral response to people's arms being torn from their sockets; well, also it seems a little tired and juvenile, this kind of "I may have gone to an Ivy League school, but I'm no suburbanite" sort of literary thrashing around. I've already been shocked into numbness, I guess -- maybe Antrim led the pack, but that hardly matters now. I would nominate this as the "Feel Bad Book of the Year". All this violence and misery, and to what end? It's not that funny, really, and it's not saying anything new. All the gal characters are evaluated to that usual "would-I-f*ck-'er?" degree, and the men are the usual Babbitt-esque suburban louts suckin' down their brewskis. Ho hum. That being said, he's an amazing writer, and I imagine that if he gets more interesting things in his head, he could produce a real 5-star novel some day without breaking a sweat.
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on April 17, 2016
What was it about the 90's and American fiction? This is another wonky, seemingly too conceptually precious book that shouldn't work at all and yet somehow its funny, terrifying and brilliant.

It's basically about the life in a small coastal town following some unspecified, societal breakdown (don't dare call it 'post-apocalyptic') as narrated by an unstable, hopelessly intellectual medievalist/school teacher. The people in this book draw and quarter the previous mayor and cover their yards in spike-filled moats...and at the same time they have town hall meetings about raising library funds and attend self-improvement seminars.

Antrim's brilliance lies in the ways he's able to weave together these descriptions of quotidian domestic existence and to perpetually push them into a darker, almost Hobbesian nightmare of social conflict. The whole thing sort of peters out at the very end, but not before Antrim creates what has to be one of the darkest, sickest set-pieces to ever climax a work of American fiction. My jaw literally dropped. This is a short and deeply weird novel. (
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on February 23, 2011
Like most coastal towns, Elect Mr. Robinson takes place in a world slightly askew of our own. The premise of the book is based on violence, and there is a fair amount of shocking violence. Yet it is often laugh-out-loud funny. One of my favorite reads ever, I've been surprised by people who've loved or hated this one. The obligatory author mashup might be Denis Johnson meets Delillo with a splash of John Kennedy Toole. If you can laugh while being appalled, this could be the perfect read for you.
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on March 27, 2016
I finished this book only because it was the book club book of the month. I know it's a satire, but with all that is going on in politics today--build a wall, deport all illegals, etc., etc.--it seems way too close to what could happen if Donald Trump becomes the president.
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