ll the ingredients of our current malaise are whipped into a bitter concoction in this cynical pre-apocalyptic novel. In Noah Hawley’s Anthem, the culture war has mutated into outright civil war and a polarized America has simply given up on its future, and by extension, the planet’s. And by given up, we’re talking a Covid-scale pandemic of teen suicides.
Narrative stakes don’t get much higher than the self-destruction of an entire generation of children, but subtlety isn’t on the menu. Astute social commentary morphs into crass nihilism at the service of a confusing thriller too convoluted and crowded with characters for its own good, let alone ours. Flashes of brilliance serve only to underscore how much the opportunity is wasted.
Hawley, who’s created highly entertaining fiction (including 2016’s Before The Fall) and television (Fargo, Legion) lost me with this one (even if he came close to finding me again with a suprisingly strong ending).
Perhaps he's aware of the novel's problem, though. At one point Hawley cheekily interrupts the narrative with the following: “First of all, your author would like to apologize for the world he has created. He knows it is ridiculous. The fact that the world he lives in is also ridiculous is no excuse. The author’s job is to make sense of the senseless.”
A world on the brink deserves better than exploitative fiction parading as finger-on-pulse commentary. Or maybe I got this exactly wrong and the point is precisely that it doesn’t?