Books : reviews

Matt Ruff.
Fool on the Hill.
Grove Press. 1988

Matt Ruff.
Sewer, Gas, Electric.
Aspect. 1997

rating : 2 : great stuff
review : 11 February 2001

How to describe this book?

Let's try a plot summary. Hmm. It's 2023. Acrophobic Harry Gant builds record-breaking mile-high skyscrapers in New York. His crusading ex-wife Joan teams up with a holographic Ayn Rand to prevent a new global disaster, helped by Kite, a one-armed veteran of the US Civil War, but hindered by Meisterbrau, a mutant great white shark living in the New York Sewers. Meanwhile pacifist eco-pirate Philo Dufresne pilots his pink polka-dotted submarine Yabba-Dabba-Do on a quest to save the last ring-tailed lemurs, with a surprising intervention by the Queen of England. And all these threads, and more, turn out to be linked.

That captures only some of the inspired lunacy. For roughly the first two thirds of the book, very little seems to actually happen. Lots of delicious seemingly unconnected little vignettes, flash-backs, and random events are presented for our delight. The lack of perceived action isn't a problem, because the individual clips are so gorgeous. But then Ruff tosses in a lit match, and the whole carefully crafted confection goes "whoosh", with non-stop action as the threads come together.

It's surreal, it's clever, it's thought provoking, it's inventive, it's funny. It's wonderful. Read it.

Matt Ruff.
Bad Monkeys.
Bloomsbury. 2007

Matt Ruff.
The Mirage.
HarperCollins. 2012

11/9/2001: Christian fundamentalists hijack four jetliners. They fly two into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers in Baghdad, and a third into the Arab Defense Ministry in Riyadh. The fourth plane, believed to be bound for Mecca, is brought down by its passengers. The United Arab States declares a War on Terror. Arabian and Persian troops invade the Eastern Seaboard and establish a Green Zone in Washington, D.C.…

Summer, 2009: Arab Homeland Security agent Mustafa al Baghdadi interrogates a captured suicide bomber. The prisoner claims that the world they are living in is a mirage—in the real world, America is a superpower, and the Arab states are just a collection of “backward third-world countries.” Other captured terrorists have been telling the same story.

The gangster Saddam Hussein is conducting his own investigation. And the head of the Senate Intelligence Committee—a war hero named Osama bin Laden—will stop at nothing to hide the truth. As Mustafa and his colleagues venture deeper into the unsettling world of terrorism, politics, and espionage, they are confronted with questions without any rational answers, and the terrifying possibility that their world is not what it seems.