I have a particular affinity for California outsider detective characters, so even when I thought that was all that was going on here, I was excited for it. I like Kang’s cynical sense of humor, and we’re of similar ages, tastes, and worldviews as far as I can tell from what I’ve seen of him in media (the book’s title is a Silver Jews reference, after all). I was pleasantly surprised that there is more here than just the detective story. The critiques of Bay Area- and Silicon Valley-facilitated celebrity and attention culture and limp liberalism that today may feel a little obvious were prescient, but no less true, when the book came out. Conversely, the concern with mass violence is very much of its era, but unfortunately no less important today. The book is simultaneously a page-turner and a little bit grotesque, which is an unusual combination.
I took a very long time to get through this. I probably should have dropped it as it never turned the corner for me, but the premise kept me waiting to be hooked by it. The setting is a town where the study of history and contact with the outside world are prohibited. I kept waiting for more interesting consequences of this tension to be born out and for the cast of strange characters reminiscent of an English countryside mystery to yield more interest, but the resolution comes instead through magical and fantastical conflict that is simply not my taste. I confess it may have been a mistake that I listened to it as an audiobook instead of reading it. It’s possible that some of the detail I was hoping for would have been apparent if I had had time to sit with it and tease it out, rather than being pulled along at the narrator’s pace.