An unexpected alliance
In a brilliantly satirical journey, Tim O’Brien crafts “America Fantastica” into a biting and entertaining tale that explores the bizarre realm of delusion and its far-reaching consequences. The story unfolds in 2019 when Boyd Halverson, a man who views his life as a spectacular failure, impulsively robs a bank in California.
His unwilling partner-in-crime is Angie Bing, an incessantly chatty bank teller standing at a mere 4 feet and 10 inches. Together, they flee to Mexico, thrust into an unexpected alliance, as Boyd harbours a vendetta against his former father-in-law, Jim Dooney, a morally dubious industrialist. A decade ago, Dooney exposed the web of lies that underpinned Boyd’s journalism career, tarnishing his reputation and preventing the publication of a damning article.
Fearing for his life, Dooney continually relocates between mansions in Texas, Minnesota, and California, while Angie’s partner embarks on a quest to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend, encountering two ex-convicts along the way. Dooney’s successor and Boyd’s ex-wife’s current husband instructs a ruthless CFO, distantly connected to infamous criminal Richard Speck, to track down Boyd and exact revenge.
Meanwhile, the owners of the Fulda bank, masters of financial manipulation, scheme to rob their own institution. Amid this uproarious chaos, Boyd grapples with an existential crisis, compounded by the enigmatic circumstances surrounding his toddler son’s accidental demise.
O’Brien intermittently pauses to launch impassioned diatribes against the widespread epidemic of mythomania and takes potshots at fake news, corporate greed, racism, and the far-right fringe. O’Brien’s narrative opts for a scattergun approach to humour and satire and the reader revels in the author’s evident enjoyment of the storytelling process.
Rich tapestry of characters
In the tradition of literary giants like Jonathan Swift and Mark Twain, “America Fantastica” stands as a poignant and witty exploration of the origins and consequences of fantastical thinking. The novel marks a triumphant return for Tim O’Brien, an essential voice in American literature.
At its core, amid a rich tapestry of characters, the story revolves around the captivating tug-of-war between two unforgettable individuals — Angie Bing, the spirited saviour of souls, and Boyd Halverson, the repentant yet compulsive liar. In much the same way that O’Brien’s acclaimed work, “The Things They Carried,” starkly unveiled the unromantic truth of war, “America Fantastica” holds up a mirror to a nation and an era adrift from reality, voraciously indulging in delusions.
Overall, “America Fantastica” is a widely engaging and entertaining narrative, showcasing O’Brien’s exceptional storytelling prowess. With a National Book Award under his belt for “Going After Cacciato” and a repertoire of other acclaimed works such as “The Things They Carried” and “In the Lake of the Woods,” O’Brien has consistently demonstrated his literary genius. His exceptional contribution to military writing is recognised by the Pritzker Literature Award for lifetime achievement.
Ahmad Nazir is a UAE based freelance writer