Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Must Read of the Century? The Mirage by Matt Ruff
There is no such thing as a typical Ruffian (ruffian, maybe). It seems that he changes his style, his interest, and his prose with every book he writes. There’s a lot of differences between “The Fool on the Hill” and “Bad Monkeys”, for example. It’s something I adore about Ruff, and something I imagine would be polarizing for some readers. Above it all, though, you have to respect the author’s moxie.
About a year ago, I sat down and talked with Mr. Ruff. During that interview he mentioned that he had pitched an idea for Fox for a television show, but it was now becoming a novel. “The Mirage”, released this past Tuesday, is the final product, and it is certainly easy to see why Fox passed on the show. For starters there’s a controversial edge to the story. There’s also some pretty significant “Fringe” science to it as well. After reading all 400+ pages, I feel satisfied just the way it ended up; I’m not sure it would have held in a TV format. Fox, no doubt, would have diluted the premise, too.
“The Mirage” refers to a mirage universe. So, like “Fringe” science would tell us, the parallel world would feature things sort of like they are…but with a twist. In the case of Ruff’s book, he tackles the world of 9/11, and in a much better way than the recent Oscar nominated film, “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”.
In the mirage world, the events of
9/11/01, actually occur on 11/9/01. That’s the first subtlety. The big one is that the attack happens to the , rather than the United Arab States . See, in Ruff’s alternate universe, the Arabs are the super power, after thirteen of the states broke away from the United States of America Ottoman Empire in the 19th century. What of ? Well, I’m sad to say that Christian fundamentalists have made the U.S.A a third world, backwards society. On 11/9, the America Tigris and fall victim to a terrorist plot, when Christian fundamentalists crash two airplanes into them. Euphrates World Trade Towers
Following this, the action plays out as the UAS begins their investigation. The plot is left in the hands of Amal and Mustafa, two intel agent with the UA-Israel. Through their eyes we, the reader, really glimpse the mirage world that’s been created – with many of the same characters that we’ve grown to know. The exploration of
was the part that really delighted me, and maybe that’s unpatriotic, but this is fiction. For example, America has become its own nation (which the real Texas has the right to do). Trouble is, it falls victim to constant attacks, as nations try to pilfer their oil. Texas
There’s the white Supremacist Christian Fundamentals, who pretty much cover the
Rockies, and take credit for the attacks on the , thus starting a 10 year war on terror. World Trade Towers
Saddam Huessein is in the mix as a gangster. Osama’s there, too. Seriously, some of the “cameos” are cringe worthy, in the very best way possible.
What’s great about this Ruff piece, is it is vintage satire, as only Ruff can do. But, it’s got a very bitter tone to it. That’s the genius. Following the events of 9/11, we had an extremely bitter edge to our society and sought the permission to laugh. As we distanced ourselves from the tragedy, we lightened. In this world, the humor is there, but it is the jaded flavor.
Over everything else I’ve already described, I love that the chapters are introduced with Wikipedia-style entries (‘cept here they’re the libraryofalexandria.com). I’ve heard some reviewers say they thought it was forced and gimmicky, but I found it to be neither of these.
The other thing I adore about this book, is it is a satire that is challenging to read. As Americans, we’re not wont for reading about our greatest tragedy, nor do we want to relive Saddam and Osama, nor do we want to see our nation pecked apart and satirized. But, like our version of the events, we suck it up and get through it.
What’s not so good?
Honestly, not a lot. If I had to pick nits here, I’d say the only thing that is distressing is that it will likely take a reader about the first 40 pages to get into the book. This didn’t phase me, though, because I’m not sure how else Ruff would have pieced together his mirage universe. There’s a lot of setting up, but by the time we’re comfortable with Mustafa and Amal, the reader’s coasting.
Rarely do I call a book “transcendent”, but this one may be just that. Is it the best book of the century? It’s still too early to tell. What I do know, though, is that I left this novel feeling much the same way I did with Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow”. That novel has stayed with me through the years, and I’m eager to see if this one will do the same. By far the best Ruff’s had to offer in his great career.
5 out of 5 stars.
The Mirage is currently available on Amazon.com