Let's Put the Future Behind Us, by Jack Womack Rothdas book review RSS
4.0 Stars

A darkly, darkly comic adventure/mystery set in Yeltsin's Russia. It's a bit _Death of Stalin_, a bit _Dying Earth_, and a bit _The eXile_.

The protagonist is a mid-level Russian business man who for the most part has stayed above the moral curve. Sure, he has a few dozen guards with sub machine guns, but so far he hasn't had to have anyone killed. He's deeply corrupt and has been for decades, but no more so than his society. Then change comes into his life, in the form of Georgian mobsters and the husband of his mistress, and suddenly he needs to swim in waters that he has managed to avoid so far.

While this isn't my favorite Womack, I still appreciated it. This book is more grounded than his sci-fi/alt-history stories, but only just, and it's littered with the vividly described spectacle and excess of post communist Russia, at turns barbaric, brutal, violent, crass, depressing, stupid, maudlin, corrupt, etc. etc. There's a ton of sex, there's some realistic and terrible violence, but more than anything there's this constant drum beat of how the law and order/idealism that we assume in the West just does not exist in Russia. Some of that is the constant need for bribes, and the constant hostility that basically everyone has to doing their jobs. Another large chunk of it is the difference between ideas/paper and reality. So you have railroads that don't exist, faked documents, false advertising, constant fraud, a comic-pathetic Sovietland theme park, and in general just a farrago of lies and bad faith. If anything I think it's a bit over-used, by the end of the book I was like "ok, I get it already, the poorly made plaster figures are a symbol of the shoddiness of the mud-ball nation that they have built contrasted to its grandiose dreams".

Hmm, what else. I mentioned Vance before, and the narrator does have elements of Cugel, always willing to flatter and glad hand and bribe and deceive, while generally trying to avoid getting caught up in personal violence. He also has a layer of remove and abstraction and irony, which mostly works, but also robs the story of a bit of energy and pacing. Other notable events include the Kazakh-feast, the Sovietland that eventually gets built, the narrators surprising and somewhat touching trepidation of America, the baths and the Zhironsky-type figure. Again, not my favorite Womack, but it still stands well above most writers in intelligence and vitality.