I’m actually having a difficult time articulating my opinion of Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. On the positive side, David Wong (aka Jason Pargin) continues his breezy, effortlessly sarcastic way of writing that for me is the equivalent of a belly rub for a dog. Okay, that analogy was a little labored. Let me try again. I like the way Wong writes. His characters are smart and funny, the situations he puts them in are equally silly and dangerous and somehow all the gonzo stuff he throws together manages to work.
In this novel he shifts to third person to tell the story of Zoey Ashe, a young woman in the near(ish) future who inherits the estate of a father she never saw or liked much, along with technology that can turn an ordinary person into an unstoppable force of destruction (ie. a supervillain). The setting is a designed city in the Utah desert called Tabula Ra$a, a largely lawless place peopled by dozens of millionaires and those who work for, prey on and gawk at them.
So far, so zany. My first stumbling block is Zoey. She’s presented as tough and independent, but also makes some very (unbelievably) stupid decisions, usually in service to moving the plot forward. I really dislike characters doing things solely to keep the plot rolling. King was right–story is good, plot is bad. Wong does this a number of times throughout, using coincidences, slip-ups and kooky hijinks to make sure the plot continues from A to B to C.
On the other hand, the novel is less about the clever machinations of the characters and more reveling in the excesses of this future world that takes the smartphone/always-connected thing to its ludicrous conclusion, where everyone has a video camera, a live feed and the insatiable need to draw an audience, whether through quirky or homicidal means.
Tone is another issue here. As the title promises, there is violence aplenty and much of it is graphic. While many of the characters are cartoonish, some are genuinely repugnant in their actions (even as they are simultaneously ridiculous in presentation). The main villain, Molech, is a self-obsessed diva who brutalizes Zoey repeatedly, all of it depicted in vivid detail. It feels a bit at odds with the sillier parts of the story, but maybe it’s just edgy and I have insufficient hipness left to appreciate it, given that I am mere years away from wearing suspenders and inexplicably hiking my pants up to my nipples (which is to say, getting older). None of this was enough to keep me from wanting to see how it all turned out, but it did lessen the experience a bit. Maybe I just don’t like reading (in detail) about terrible physical violence being inflicted on people.
The big finale also felt a bit thrown together and was anti-climactic, but wasn’t actually bad. I mean, we’re talking barely registering on the It-o-meter for bad endings. Still, it could have been better.
If you liked Wong’s two previous novels, you’ll almost certainly like Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits. In the end it’s a goofy, gory, gross ride whose strengths overcome its weaknesses. It’s not as good as This Book is Full of Spiders but it’s still a fun read, with more than a few laughs tucked in among the copious flying bullets, severed heads and talking toilets.