August 3, 2014
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” by David Shafer
Reviewed by Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times
Literary fiction rarely seems edgy or even fun these days. One theory is that most of the smart, ambitious and talented writers started migrating to movies and television back in the 1980s.
Go west, young one.
David Shafer, author of “WTF,” missed the wagon train. We are lucky he did. His inventive, comic, dystopian semi-thriller restored my faith in fiction. Remember the TV show “Thirtysomething”? Shafer undoubtedly does. His novel is 30-somethings on pot, dosed with computers and conspiracy theories, zinging with wit and pop culture savvy.
His leading 30-somethings, Leo, Leila, and Mark, are brought together in an effort to oppose the Committee, a corporate cabal seeking to privatize and possess all the information in the world. Leo is a substance abuser with a trust fund, Leila is a former idealist working for an international nonprofit, and Mark is a best-selling and self-loathing self-help author.
Leila is recruited by the opposition, and she helps recruit Leo, who in turns helps with Mark. Leo and Mark are estranged friends from college. After Mark’s book, “Bringing the Inside Out,” became wildly successful, Mark ignored Leo. The book, “pretty basic stuff about how you’re never going to be certain, and there are too many variables to control for, and that probably the work of life is all about balancing,” deeply annoyed Leo.
James Straw, however, the master of the cabal, sees it as a motivational bible. He wants Mark to work for him as “Storyteller-in-Chief.” Straw offers Mark money and luxury. The equally shadowy opposition offers Mark, Leo and Leila “a chance to be part of something grander” than themselves.
Shafer’s writing is hip, wickedly hilarious, cutting edge, and ultimately concerned with old-fashioned notions of morality and redemption. He both mocks and adopts Mark’s counsel, “Build the world you want to be a part of.”