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Book Review: 'Satin Island' By Tom McCarthy


Now, "Satin Island." It's the title of the new book by Tom McCarthy, the acclaimed experimental novelist. It is a novel, but our reviewer Alan Cheuse says it might be more apt to call it a critique of modern life, dressed in a novel's clothing.

ALAN CHEUSE, BYLINE: The narrator, who asks the reader to call him by the letter U, tells us that he works as an in-house ethnographer for a consultancy. It's a business that advises cities on, as he puts it, how to brand and rebrand themselves. The brunt of the book gives us U's struggle to produce a major report about the usual business of contemporary life. But, of course, trying to explain the nature of contemporary life isn't easy. It all comes together towards the end of his story, when he has a splendid dream in which the New York City borough of Staten Island turns into a miraculous, visionary location. U calls it Satin Island, where garbage turns into a glowing ooze, its colors morphing from vermillion-yellow to mercurial-silver. So some emotion, in the form of the brilliant colors in the narrator's dream, finally breaks through the taut surface of the novel. And the satiny glow of those passages gives a reader hope for some kind of fusion of meaning and feeling in a world that's too carefully restrained. "Satin Island," not Staten Island. If you read McCarthy's ingenious new work of fiction, you may dream about it too.

MCEVERS: The book by Tom McCarthy's "Satin Island." Alan Cheuse is our reviewer. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alan Cheuse died on July 31, 2015. He had been in a car accident in California earlier in the month. He was 75. Listen to NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamburg's retrospective on his life and career.