STARRED REVIEW
February 05, 2019

American Pop

By Snowden Wright
Review by

The effervescent opening scene of Snowden Wright’s second novel, American Pop, which brings readers to New Year’s Eve in 1940 at Mississippi’s Peabody Hotel, never goes flat—and the same goes for the rest of the novel, which unravels a mogul soda family’s rise and decline.

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The effervescent opening scene of Snowden Wright’s second novel, American Pop, which brings readers to New Year’s Eve in 1940 at Mississippi’s Peabody Hotel, never goes flat—and the same goes for the rest of the novel, which unravels a mogul soda family’s rise and decline.

In the early 1900s, Houghton Forster sells his homemade soda as a remedy to common ailments at his family’s store in Panola County, Mississippi. By the 1920s, PanCola is the top American brand and is becoming popular worldwide. While Houghton encourages each of his four children to track down his or her own secret ambition, an ad campaign sparks a manic hunt for PanCola’s secret ingredient. Business falters in the ’60s after Houghton turns the company over to his grandson, much to the resentment of his economist sister. In the ’80s, Harold, the sole remaining Forster, passes on stories, dusty memorabilia—and possibly the secret ingredient—to a newcomer to the tale, Robert Vaughn.

In Robert’s obituary for Harold, he writes, “One emotion twined his family members together, the same one that led to the creation of a product that made them famous, and that emotion wasn’t hatred.” Like the secret ingredient, the key to this family remains a mystery, better named by what it isn’t than what it is. In the vein of To Kill A Mockingbird and more recent classics like The Twelve-Mile Straight and Miss Jane, American Pop explores the South’s dark side. A probing cultural history, the book is also a literary innovation: The time and place shift from paragraph to paragraph, and its main characters are all antiheros, cathartic and prophetic more than admirable, while the outliers, the family’s dark-skinned “help,” become heroes.

In its fluid sense of setting and unorthodox cast, the novel rebuffs nostalgia with a fresh perspective. A bubbling satire, American Pop explodes into more than a family portrait; it is our continuing American saga.

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American Pop

American Pop

By Snowden Wright
William Morrow
ISBN 9780062697745

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