American Dream Machine

Matthew Specktor, part of that contingent of American fiction that doesn’t suck, is reviewed at the LARB for his new American Dream Machine.

American Dream Machine is told in the first person by Nate, Beau’s bastard son, who interweaves episodes of Beau’s career with the story of his and his half-brothers’ youth, coming-of-age, and early adulthood. Cue, therefore, party scenes, club scenes, scenes with drugs, and Gun N’ Roses. These episodes, for me, don’t work as well as those that center upon Beau and his cohorts. La vie de bohème is basically the same in New York or London or wherever you look, whereas the business world that this novel inhabits is unique, opaque, and therefore utterly fascinating.

However, Specktor’s Jamesian or Gatsby-ish narrative strategy allows the story to blast and breeze across the decades with conversational intimacy:

How thrilling it must have been. The fat kid from Queens, loosed into a world like this one. Can you blame me for wanting to crowd in before my time, to wanting to jam into a booth at Dominic’s, at the Factory or the Haunted House, next to Beau and Bryce and Nicholson and Bob Skoblow, the man who’d booked the Beatles onto Ed Sullivan.

Nate’s tale is, too, a meditation about fathers and sons, about both the love, and the fantasies of rebellion and love, that exist between them. It’s a laying to rest of a past that Nate can’t help but be haunted by. Glory days, gory days. This is a novel that calculates the sadness of time, taking as central to its action the frightening idea that, as the world changes, so do our roles within it. Even scheming Iago will get to play Pagliacci and, if he lives long enough, King Lear. Beau’s end is spectacular and sad indeed, a fittingly outrageous Götterdämmerung amidst the weird Spanish voodoo of the Chateau Marmont.

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