Kevin Power

Rake’s Progress

Hystopia

By

Faber & Faber 336pp £16.99 order from our bookshop
 

What if Lee Harvey Oswald, squeezing off those three fatal rounds from the Book Depository in Dallas on 22 November 1963, had botched the job? What if John F Kennedy, wounded but triumphant, had gone on to win a second and then a third presidential term? What if, under Kennedy’s auspices, America’s war in Vietnam had been mercilessly intensified? These, it seems, are the counterfactual données that underwrite Hystopia, David Means’s debut novel (hitherto he has been known as a writer of highly polished, slightly trippy short stories). But mark that ‘seems’: Hystopia is a novel pitted with trapdoors, a fictional puzzle box in which, as one minor character puts it, ‘Surety is a thing of the past.’ 

Hystopia is in fact the title of a novel by one Eugene Allen, a 22-year-old Vietnam veteran from northern Michigan who left the manuscript behind when he committed suicide. The guts of the Means novel consist of the Allen novel, which, clamped

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