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Locus Amoenus Hardcover – June 22, 2015
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Locus Amoenus uses hilarity and conspiracy theories to present the tragicomedy of a contemporary America that is beyond belief. An important contribution to contemporary American fiction. William Irwin Thompson, Wild River Review
This is Hamlet reimagined as a truther. The protagonist isn't just feigning madness--he's genuinely losing his mind. -Kirkus
Imagine Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog, written from the point of view of an American teen... Darkly humorous, harshly compelling, and cruelly relentless. Sheila's Reviews
A clever and engaging novel...Alexander has a free-spirited style that entertains on every page. Likely Stories Book Review, KWBU Heart of Texas Public Radio
The most stark divisions in America may spring not from political, ethnic or racial backgrounds but from informational sources...This is a theme explored in the darkly humorous novel, Locus Amoenus. Woodstock Times
Locus Amoenus tells of the country's reality of junk food, junk politics and ever-creeping power of the National Security Administration and Homeland Security. Middletown Press
A scathing commentary on government-subsidized food programs in schools, low-level abuses of authority in local government and the destructive effects of war and pharmaceuticals. The Millbrook Independent
Until now, the only 9/11-truth-themed novel of high literary quality was Thomas Pynchon's Bleeding Edge. Locus Amoenus is the best fictional treatment of 9/11 yet. It's hilarious, darkly ironic, playful, deeply moving. Kevin Barrett, Veterans Today
brings Shakespeare into the post-9/11 world we currently experience and sows an emotionally powerful geopolitical drama. WBAI radio NYC
From the Back Cover
A satirical examination of how we live in the 21st century, in the United Estates of America, with less civilization and more discontents than hitherto. Amidst nostalgic reflections on our past, Alexander notices current absurdities and contradictions in our appetites and critique of consumerism, and despite the tragedy, we have the consolation of her humor. I haven't laughed this well while reading in a long time.
-Josip Novakovich, author of Shopping for a Better Country and Man Booker Prize finalist
Brilliantly combining Shakespeare's knowing personal-political masterpiece, Hamlet, with post-911 ruminations of an edifying diversity of characters inhabiting Amenia in rural New York, novelist Victoria N. Alexander manages to do the three things that Nabokov says a good novelist must do: tell a story, inform, and enchant. Locus Amœnus, a short, sweet, sui generis blend of contemporary adult fiction and geopolitical drama, reminds us that something may be rotten in more than Denmark.
-Dorion Sagan, author of The Cosmic Apprentice
This brilliant, searing political novel deserves to be read by all of those interested in the current and future state of the United States of America. Darkly comic, wry and witty, Locus Amœnus is a genuine pastoral, a critique of the bloating and corruption of American life that draws on Hamlet for its dissection of politics, relationships, and love in post-9/11 America. From Swift to Shakespeare, the literary antecedents for Locus Amœnus are wide and varied, but the novel that emerges is wholly original and haunting in its graphic depiction of contemporary American mores and failures. I can't recommend Victoria N. Alexander's new novel enough.
-Oona Frawley, author of Flight, Irish Book Award finalist
A tale of dark political corruption, betrayal and a through the looking-glass world where you can believe six impossible things before breakfast, Locus Amœnus is also a fiercely funny romp by a talented writer.
-Charles Holdefer, author of The Contractor
Alexander's Locus Amœnus is a biting, witty, and ultimately touching window on modern American life. She evokes the wit and depth of the best of Kingsolver and high satire and earnest social exploration of Pynchon or Delillo. Her experiences bridging the worlds of rural and urban northeastern America provide those of us with experience of both a welcomed bit of nostalgia, longing, familiarity, and a sense of loss. This story is to be savored, and hopefully re-read in certain existential moods.
-David Koepsell, author of Reboot World
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by themselves and who are deeply involved in crucial events such like 9/11. We have simply too many sheeple on planet Earth! People who are happy simply by being conformist. They are in great majority and therefore judge everyone against the establishment simply another foolish conspiracy theorist. Today, critical thinking is not teaching in school and almost forbidden by our societies. This is a catastrophe for peace. An hidden tumor in our societies.
Locus Amoenus is a superb novel for several reasons; It wake up your critical thinking. It's written sarcastically with a sense of black humor so particular to Victoria N Alexander. It's superbly written. I personally found the most beautiful pages I ever read. I read the novel four times and I'm certainly going to read it again as soon as I feel my critical thinking becoming weaker.
One reader has said something about the “moral danger” of this story, as though it might engender some kind of moral problem in itself. Instead, I think, the story reveals moral problems deriving from manipulation and secrecy, as well as “complacency and conformity” (preface). I believe the same could be said of Shakespeare’s play—which led the way in being provocative on the nature of human weakness and moral decay.
Victoria N. Alexander’s playful use of parody is significant in many ways, including in pointing back to Hamlet itself, and enhancing reader understanding for the bard’s masterpiece. But the resolution of this novel is difficult, taking us also to Lear with further parody in young Hamlet’s rejoinder to Horatio’s seeking reassurance that he will not give in to the sinister appeals of Dr. England: “I’m just going to ad lib from now on,” he says. “Let it come. Readiness is all.”
That is, the question comes down to how to deal with confirmation of a Hamlet-like disillusion, or what I call “chasmic disbelief,” in the extent and the thickness of the denial conditioning all so willingly ascribed to, accepted, encloaked with, by that “piece of work” known generally as mankind, and in this novel’s setting, in particular the good folks of Amenia and America at large.
Central and bold, Victoria has presented the continuing malaise of what really happened on 9/11 to the twin towers, with little doubt that the Hamlet and Horatio of this story know the story has been cooked. These two provide a number of indications within the narrative to support this conclusion, along with reviewing the odium that has accumulated in even daring to question the official story. This debate is of course still very much alive, with a Senator McCarthy-like tendency to dismiss criticism—or even very good questions on how the towers could ‘blow up”—as “treason” and “mental instability.”
The novel's young Hamlet, an adolescent Hamlet perhaps, with his potentials for sharp and witty verbiage, is possibly at his peak moment of “chasmic disbelief” in the tree house with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in a chapter titled “Alas, Poor America,” with these two blockheads happily going off to the middle east to fight the wars, they of the “herd instinct,” and who (Hamlet thinks) “will win, I realize. These two, they will win.”
The original Hamlet, with a rash moment of feeling when he states he will “sweep to my revenge,” has of course done nothing of the sort while staring into the abyss of “For there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” A moment later he ruminates on man as “noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable” etc.—that speech we are familiar with, not merely for its eloquence but as a standard the human might feel we have achieved and should live up to.The two works intertwine and mesh at this point in the tree house with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, in that where Shakespeare’s Hamlet arrives to, along with the young Hamlet of Locus Amoenus, is the chasm of disbelief into which both topple.
The bard’s Hamlet descent takes him to the realization that there is no overarching, omnipotent, objective “truth.” There is only what men, and it seems especially a male tendency, do make of “truth” in that “thinking makes it so.” For Dr. England this precept is basic to the safe, sane world the authorities would prefer to create for happy consumer land. Would Horatio and Hamlet in Locus Amoenus want something different, as in so upsetting the apple cart the society might turn to violence? Oh no no. Let the violence take place somewhere else.
Locus Amoenus supplies contemporary context and learning for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in that the bard’s Hamlet is an odd sort of advanced modern, with the comfortable assumptions of a God-protected world suddenly shredding in the wind. So, from this Hamlet to the adolescent Hamlet in this novel, who comes to a similar realization—there is no protective agency to find the truth, there is not even much interest—and in turn to those of us feeling, as the prologue states, “Something is rotten in the United States of America,” we come to the novel’s invitation to apply a story to reality.
The citizenry of Amenia, whether defending their obesity-producing school food programs or venting their ignorance and frustration over young Hamlet’s “terrorism” are possibly pathetic victims—good people unfortunately ignorant, or stupid. How their condition of refusal even to tolerate critical questioning applies to the macrocosmic level the novel is projecting takes us all toward the enormous difficulty and chasm of disbelief that authority and denial have induced in this society.
In her Preface Victoria states this condition this way: “And now I know the corruption and conspiracy are not to blame so much as the meaner diseases of complacency and conformity.” When immediately following she says “I groan” in taking on this project I interpret this “groan” as sadness, as a forerunner of the distress her insights may stir, as well as the tragically sad nature of human ineptitude.
Yet this ineptitude is the last thing our techie age wants to think about itself—or question. Could we be in some sort of descent, very similar to staring down into what I have called a “chasmic disbelief,” or on the brink of some sort of precipice, such as having to leap off a building more than 1300 feet high? Is it possible civilization is sliding backwards in this descent, reversing to pre-Shakespeare, back into the dark ages, into savagery?
But this sort of question is a tricky one to pose, although it would seem Locus Amoenus poses it, without risk of being considered “crazy” or “dangerous” in some way, so steeped have we become in our chocolate, and our fat bodies and our way of life that we must protect at all costs, including by not thinking and indeed even by demonizing those who do think. That our way of life is not only grossly unfair but unsustainable we certainly would rather not take on, since we have anxieties enough as it is. Thinking so, we ameliorate the good or bad into the good—or at the least what we’d rather leave aside for now.
I have lingered on what I see as the thematic impact of this novel, as I wrestle with the meaning of—and satisfaction thereby—its protagonist’s resolution to “ad lib” and to observe “readiness is all.” But, no. This is as it should be. Young Hamlet has left me with inspiration to do my own thinking instead of a slovenly expectation to have it done for me. I must continue to build my “readiness.”
The connection between Hamlet’s dilemma, far more than being rattled by an illusion on the ramparts telling him about Claudius (but hey that makes for a good Shakespearean ghost story!), and young Hamlet’s confusion and disillusionment at the inadequacy of his world to cope with the death of his father, and our own moment, now, with the prolongation of the American indulgence in its plundering ways at large in the world—I do think this novel brings all these together very effectively.
The novel is a pleasure in its playfulness and its alert and intelligent assessment of our own time.
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