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Turn of the Century: A Novel Paperback – July 11, 2000
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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.
Top customer reviews
I also enjoyed the almost soap-operatic feel of watching George and Lizzie's day to day lives progress, both at the office and in their home. It was interesting to watch how different they were to each other in the world of business and the world of matrimony/family. (Brings to mind the saying, "One never really knows anyone.")
I've heard that perhaps the book doesn't appeal to people who live too far outside large urban centers, but I can't see why that would be true. Most of us are attached to the Internet these days, most love "modern conveniences," and most would like to have more money than we do. Seems like that would be enough to make this a book that could appeal to anyone, despite geography. I mean, yes, it might appeal to New Yorkers MORE, but that's because we're reading about our hometown here. I also love Motherless Brooklyn (which takes place in the neighborhood where I grew up), but just because I can recognize what deli Letham's talking about doesn't mean it isn't worthy of its National Book Critic's Circle Award, ya know?
In summary, I loved the book. I also loved the end, which a lot of people seem to think was a disappointment. The book might run on a bit long, but for me it was an extremely satisfying read, and one that I've personally recommended -- especially to people who DO like books based in New York.
What makes the book such fun is that Lizzie and George are likeable people, and behave like many people probably would when presented by the opportunity to get rich producing junk. Their odd kids are likeable, and even some of their relentlessly self-absorbed colleagues are appealing. And what happens when George and Lizzie are forced to take their noses out of their checkbooks is harrowing and funny.
Comparisons to Tom Wolfe are inevitable, and Kurt Andersen has written the book many wished "A Man In Full" to be. Sharp and funny with heart, we can take some comfort in the fact that "Turn of the Century" takes place in the near future. If we pay attention now, we may never get there.