King, Reed. “FKA USA: A Novel”, Flatiron, 2019.
Formerly Known As
As I read Reed King’s “FKA USA”, I thought to myself that is one of the most audacious novels I have ever and I must say that I admire the author who was able to bring L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz”, Douglas Adams’s “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” together and produce a wonderful American satire.
In 2085, the United States has dissolved in the wake of environmental disasters and the catastrophic policies of its final president. Truckee Wallace, a factory worker in Crunchtown 407 (formerly Little Rock, Arkansas, before the secessions), has no grand ambitions or plans aside from losing his virginity. But then the president taps him for a sensitive political mission: to deliver a talking goat across the continent and the fate of the world depends upon it. Truckee’s not sure the effort is worth it. But agrees to perform the undertaking.
He is joined on the road by an android who wants to be human and a former convict lobotomized in Texas. He has to find ways to navigate an environmentally depleted and lawless continent with many parallels to our country as it is today. The trio will have to avoid “body pickers and Elvis-worshippers and logo girls, body subbers, and VR addicts” and “ Elvis-willing, he may even lose his virginity.”
Before reading, prepare yourself to laugh for several hundred pages of a novel that is filled with ambition, humor, and satire . You will also shed tears and feel despair as you laugh and you might do like me and reread right away. This is, according to NPR “a visionary head-trip of apocalyptic political satire…absolutely, mind-blowingly, ridiculously crazy…it is precisely in the way that King (or whoever) cranked the Disaster-Mo-Tron up to 11 and offered a world where EVERY near-future nightmare came true at once that makes it something different. And it is his (or her) ability to carve a completely human center out of that storm of sound and fury…that makes it great….” You will feel its absurdity when you read about talking goats and narcissistic billionaire presidents but then the scene seems very real.
One must imagine that “The Wizard of Oz” is set in 2085 when the United States is torn apart and into warring regions following the chickens of climate change who are coming home to roost, or more accurately to die. There have been cataclysmic earthquakes that broke off large chunks of California and totally eliminated Hawaii. Rising sea levels have eroded most of Florida and the Gulf. Corporate dominance is so powerful that the employee handbook is the constitution. It is in this setting that Truckee Wallace is sent on a secret mission to cross the country to San Francisco to deliver a talking fainting goat to a great scientist in the hope of saving humanity. An android comes along on the first leg, hoping to go with him as far as the Independent Nation of Engineered People-Things (an android nation run by ALF, the Android Liberation Front). When Truckee and the android were captured by some outlaws, the escaped with a lobotomized fellow prisoner named Tiny Tim because he’s so big. The surgery is performed on criminals, reducing their intellectual capacity. The creator of this futuristic lobotomy was named Straw, and the people effected are called Straw Men.
The world is dour but Truckee and his friends ease on down the road meeting all sorts of people while being chased by drones and other spies. The environment is a constant challenge. When Truckee and friends are rescued and taken to an idyllic preserve where there are fresh water and home-grown fruits and vegetables, Truckee just can’t deal with the awful food.
This is a fun read and you cannot but laugh at the trademarked product names and the unique properties of the diverse states of the territories formerly known as USA. People in the Real Friends® of the North get paid in likes, winks, and nudges while The Confederacy is militant and anti-science and unable to spread their insurrection successfully since they were prohibited any technology post-1868.
The great fun in reading this is recognizing elements from “The Wizard of Oz” especially since nothing is in one’s face. In the near future (end of 2100s) the country Formerly Known As USA is no more. Instead it’s a disjointed conglomerate of city states and territories, some wilder than others and most devastated by environmental and political catastrophes.