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All Political Fiction Coverage

Ever since the publication of her first novel, Jack (1989), and continuing through her 2018 story collection, Days of Awe, A.M. Homes has focused with laserlike precision on some of the darkest corners of contemporary American life. It makes sense, then, that in her provocative novel The Unfolding, she would turn to a bitingly satirical exploration of our current political predicament. 

Homes’ novel smartly imagines the machinations of a shadowy group of rich and powerful men who organize for action in the aftermath of Barack Obama’s election in 2008. Calling themselves the “Forever Men,” they’re led by a character identified only as “the Big Guy,” who divides his time between a Wyoming ranch and a luxurious home in Palm Springs, California. There’s also a retired general with connections at the deepest levels of the American security establishment, a Texas judge and a “mad scientist” whose expertise includes a gift for spotting emerging trends.

When they’re not riding in a hot air balloon or participating in target practice, the men ponder in self-aggrandizing terms “how to reclaim our America, a traditional America that honors the dreams of our forefathers.” In truth, the heart of their project is ensuring the preservation of an American democracy that they believe is about “capitalism, guns, and lower taxes.” The suggestion of a “seamless transition unfolding in the corridors of power, a slow roll to the right that no one sees coming,” has an eerily familiar feel.

But even as the conspirators plot to wrest America from the Obama coalition and return it securely to the control of their fellow wealthy white men, the Big Guy must deal with a complicated assortment of challenges closer to home. His wife’s alcoholism is worsening, and his independent-minded 18-year-old daughter, safely ensconced in an all-girls boarding school in Virginia, is beginning to formulate her own ideas of how the world should to work. When the Big Guy is forced to reveal a long-buried family secret, his once-tidy life teeters on the edge of implosion. 

Homes ends her story on January 20, 2009, Obama’s inauguration day, before the group’s hostile takeover plan is actually set in motion. If only for that reason, The Unfolding is a novel that cries out for a sequel. On the other hand, Homes cannily suggests, maybe that sequel is playing out right before our eyes.

Through the story of a shadowy group of rich and powerful men who organize for action in the aftermath of Barack Obama's election in 2008, A.M. Homes offers a bitingly satirical exploration of our current political predicament.
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Sooner or later, every country experiences moments of upheaval. Some moments, however, are more consequential than others, such as the 2017 coup that ended the regime of Robert Mugabe as the president of Zimbabwe after four decades in power.

That ouster is the inspiration for Glory, NoViolet Bulawayo’s follow-up to her 2013 debut novel, We Need New Names, a finalist for the Booker Prize. Bulawayo has found a clever if familiar way to tell the story of a fictional African country and the fall of its leader: Clearly inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, the population consists entirely of animals.

Known as the Father of the Nation, Old Horse is the leader of Jidada. He held a leadership role in the War of Liberation during the 1970s and has been in power for the past 40 years, his reign “longer than the nine life spans of a hundred cats.” In one of many witty touches, Bulawayo writes that Old Horse’s authority is so great that the sun twerks at his command and blazes with the intensity he desires.

Also in power, in her own way, is Old Horse’s wife, a donkey known as Dr. Sweet Mother, who denounces the “depravity” of the Sisters of the Disappeared, a group that demands the return of regime dissenters who have mysteriously vanished.

The novel’s action takes off from there, with a pack of dogs known as Defenders determined to protect the current regime; a vice president, also a horse, who schemes to take over; an Opposition convinced that the overthrow of the government will lead to better days; and a goat named Destiny, long exiled from Jidada, who returns after a decade’s absence to reunite with her mother and tell the story of her country’s struggles.

Glory is an allegory for the modern age, with references to contemporary world politics, chapters written as a series of tweets, and animals checking social media for updates on fast-changing developments. Animal Farm is the obvious parallel, but some readers will also note the influence of works by Kenyan author Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, especially in Bulawayo’s extravagant storytelling and critique of colonialism.

Late in the novel, Destiny notes “the willingness of citizens to get used to that which should have otherwise been the source of outrage.” As this wise, albeit occasionally repetitive, book makes clear, that’s a cautionary message all countries should heed.

NoViolet Bulawayo’s Animal Farm-inspired novel is an allegory for the modern age, with animals checking social media for updates on fast-changing developments.

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