The brushstrokes of plot that kick off Something New Under the Sun suggest the makings of a mildly satirical novel starring yet another neurotic upper-middle-class family. But that’s just misdirection, and Kleeman excels at it; what follows is muscular, brilliant, bonkers, an incredibly upsetting portrait of not only who we are but what we may yet become ... The themes rhyme with Chinatown and Soylent Green, but the metafictional approach recalls literary innovators such as Ben Marcus or Jesse Ball, or even Vladimir Nabokov in his mind-bending masterpiece Pale Fire ... At times, the book can groan a bit from Kleeman’s apparent dedication to research...A 220-page version of this novel might’ve been better ... And yet, when Kleeman is having fun, so are we ... How is this different from other dystopian novels of late capitalism? Kleeman mixes in alluring tinctures of other genres — a sharp send-up of the Hollywood we love to hate, the inspiring transformation of Cassidy from fake hero to real. But the novel’s true genius lies in Patrick’s realizations about family, ambition and storytelling, epiphanies that arrive tragically late ... Will the ending of Something New Under the Sun crush you under the weight of its own transgressive horrors? That might depend on how you really feel about polar bears. It will certainly cause you to peek under your countertop one more time to check on your water pipes. In a keen and wonderful novel about celebrity worship, paranoia and the many ways lonely people can get it wrong, it’s the innocent Nora who might be most right. 'People aren’t the future,' she says, and after finishing this book and having a look around at the real world, it’s hard to disagree.
If we are prepared to see the air let out of Patrick’s tires a little bit—maybe more than a little bit—well, that’s largely because a million other books and movies and TV shows about Hollywood have led us to expect as much. Kleeman’s eye is deft enough, her senses of satire and proportion sufficiently stropped, that I wouldn’t have minded if that’s what she did. Her descriptions of Cassidy’s filmography and of Patrick’s bibliography are plausibly funny — or rather, are just implausible enough to be funny — and her ear for the cinephilic bickering of the PAs and the greasy reassurances of the producers are likewise on point. It’s tempting, at the beginning of the novel, to relax, to settle in for the ride that will lead Patrick Hamlin toward his inevitable comeuppance ... Kleeman’s great skill, and this novel’s abiding triumph, is how seamlessly she blends the horrific with the mundanely troubling, the ridiculous — or the impossible — with the ordinarily absurd ... Kleeman’s unraveling of this plot is satisfying enough, but she’s no more interested in writing a noir than she is a conventional Hollywood satire. What is really happening here — what Kleeman has ultimately in mind — should be kept under wraps to some extent, but it’s worth noting that the world she describes, despite its occasional exaggerations, remains a canny mirror of our own.
Fans of Kleeman’s previous work will know that she is an expert at taking the conventions of genre and twisting them to her own ends ... You may find yourself, like I did, transformed into one of the novel’s many conspiracy theorists, furiously jotting down all the potential connections ... But while the genre may have changed, Kleeman’s set of preoccupations has only deepened and, in more than one sense, expanded. She is still very much interested in the everyday language of capitalism ... thrilling, and points to a mode of writing that possesses the necessary mix of beauty, humor, and (funnily enough) serious political engagement to meet the urgency of our present moment ... while most conspiracy theories presume to make the world more knowable—which is to say, more easily contained—Kleeman’s does the opposite. I left this novel with a peculiar mixture of wonder and unease, the same feeling you might get trying to make out stars from beyond a dense scrim of light pollution. When you finally look back down, the shapes of the buildings seem less solid somehow, like they—and you—were never supposed to be there in the first place.
A takedown of the greed and superficiality of the film industry is only one strand of this multifaceted book ... a wide-ranging, ambitious novel that has plenty to say about the current state of the world. Mixing styles in a way that is inventive and deliberately disconcerting, the book is more focused on ideas than plot. As with many eco-parables, the end is largely and tragically predetermined. The story is more about how we got here. Along the way, Kleeman takes on capitalism, corruption and environmental disaster in a book that is part eco-horror story, part Californian noir ... At times it can all feel a bit much, though Kleeman is skilled at finetuning details to give a convincing picture of the apocalypse ... There is the sense that little gets past this author. Whether the observations are real-world or metafictional, they are delivered in the same stylishly cutting manner ... The strength of this novel is in the stark way that Kleeman sets out a wholly believable near-future apocalypse.
From the outset, there’s a weird pathos to its disturbed and disturbing world ... Kleeman creates tensions between the intimate human stories that are the mainstay of literary fiction and the non-human worlds in which these stories happen. She is a playful rather than a lecturing writer, mining the different ways in which the personal is snarled up in the environmental, and vice versa ... develops this intense focus in brief passages that digress into largely unseen worlds: sewage pipes, the heart of a wildfire, a prehistoric seascape. When a fictional setting is given a great deal of attention, it’s become a cliche to describe it as a character in the story. That cliche requires an assumption that forests or weather fronts don’t habitually make anything happen. In Kleeman’s novel, as in real life, this assumption looks wishful: scenery and infrastructure threaten to murder the protagonists ... sun-drenched, sharply observed and swift-moving; the sentences are beautiful. What makes it strange and new is the way the narrative disrupts itself. With concentrated attention on each flame in a wildfire, prehistoric marine life forms, or the plastic taste of soft furnishings in a carpet beetle’s mouth, it takes notice of much that is outside the brief of the story of Patrick and Cassidy, Alison and Nora. The book encompasses extra reality, but the experience of reading it is oddly surreal – it exposes unsettling truths about this 'world as a whole, trembling with life and violence', hiding in plain sight.
Kleeman takes the water wars of Roman Polanski’s Chinatown and updates them for our era of severe droughts and unending wildfires, giving us a slick neo-noir where the central crime is neither murder nor blackmail but climate change ... As global warming makes a mockery of our timescales for dystopia, this novel is a reminder that, pretty soon, we will not have a choice between real things and whatever approximations of them will exist on a ruined planet. While Kleeman’s dark humor makes this pill a little easier to swallow, you are still left wondering: What was that I just drank? ... Few writers are more committed to exposing the ridiculousness of everyday consumption ... As the secrets surrounding the liquid start to unravel, the mystery element of the novel begins to feel a bit … damp. In the end, the story behind the conspiracy is surprisingly mundane, especially given the book’s hyperreality and intricate imagery. This mundanity also seems to be Kleeman’s point. Is there really such a thing as a shocking twist under capitalism?
The first few chapters are a funny, if clichéd, send-up of Hollywood...As Patrick and Cassidy embark on a series of investigative forays to marginal warehouses across LA, the novel becomes California neo-noir, tipping its hat to Raymond Chandler and Thomas Pynchon. Patrick is one of the genre’s less-compelling guides: Philip Marlowe if you replaced his grit with petulance, or Doc Sportello minus the loopy charm. But his neurasthenic passivity is an unsurprising response to a world whose ills include not just greed and corruption but a world-historical catastrophe. Kleeman shows how climate change is the ultimate noir subject: Human action and inaction tragically combine to produce a fate as sure as an incoming asteroid ... This third-act upending of both genre and conventional narrative structure elevates the novel into something much stranger and more transcendent than is obvious at the outset. It is here that Kleeman really shines.
What constitutes an emergency? That is one of the questions posed, with chilly, stylish composure, by Alexandra Kleeman’s new novel, Something New Under the Sun, an unlikely amalgam of climate horror story, movie-industry satire and made-for-TV mystery ... Kleeman’s dystopia reveals itself slowly, normalcy curdling in the boil ... Kleeman, who is often compared to postmodern writers like Don DeLillo and Thomas Pynchon, can turn a beautiful sentence, but she can seem overfond of the funhouse-mirror refractions between reality, surreality and whatever middle dimension between them exists on television and film ... the novel hurtles toward a dissolution that feels both unsatisfying and apt. It is a ghost story not of the past but of the near future, a ghost story as alarm bell, one hard to leave in the realm of fiction.
Something New negotiates the wild torrents of the climate crisis while sailing a recognizable narrative barque: a four-act structure, a noir-adjacent plot, and the color palette of a Miranda July film. Something New is not just an intellectual and imaginative victory, but also an emotional one. It vivifies a catastrophe that often registers as tragically abstract, bestowing upon the Anthropocene and every creature it afflicts the kind of attention that Simone Weil equates to prayer ... the mystery in question is never very mysterious. Instead, the book generates power through its intricate ecosystem of resonances and its devotion to the theme of ecological collapse. While Something New remains rooted in plausible—indeed, probable—human drama, its animals, plants, and landscapes are not portrayed as incidental accoutrements to the narrative; they are the narrative. In 10 observant chapters, Something New distinguishes itself by treating the nonhuman creatures of its world as primary characters whose relevance need not be explained, whose integrity need not be earned ... Something New is not a perfect novel—is there such a thing?—but it would be a mistake to waste words on its flaws, which are merely distracting, never disqualifying. At times, I missed the unabashedly dreamlike nature of Kleeman’s previous work—the Kafkaesque dissonance—but most of the strengths she has displayed thus far are at their finest in Something New. While it is more cinematic than her first two books, it likewise finesses unreality to access reality ... Kleeman demonstrates a loyalty to strangeness; there is an extraterrestrial, anthropological quality to her prose, liberating observations from shorthand ... Something New Under the Sun is a eulogy, a ghost story, and an informed ode to the ways and forms of life destroyed by human appetites. Most of all, it is a masterpiece.
... chilling because it closely resembles our own climate chaos ... If a screenwriter were adapting Something New Under The Sun, they could assuredly cut the first 100 pages. The narrative only gets going about half-way through, when Patrick and Cassidy team up as amateur sleuths to unravel the conspiracy of WAT-R ... Certain characters are underdeveloped...This is a shame, because Kleeman often thrillingly tips the tough prose of hardboiled detective fiction towards lyrical menace ... Ultimately, though, the various strands of Something New Under The Sun don’t quite hang together. Like WAT-R, there is something about the novel that keeps you thirsting for more ... But even if her characters occasionally lack fire in the belly, Kleeman is a writer working with far more flair than most. Her novels critique the comfortable indifference of life under late capitalism and, as such, are quite the opposite: observant, unnerving and bold.
Kleeman’s L.A. is as surreal as the L.A. of Pynchon’s Inherent Vice. Similarly, there is a distinctly drug-induced vibe that permeates the pages. But for Kleeman, it isn’t the irreverent outcast that’s imbibing, it’s the general public and they don’t even know it. Nothing is as it appears, including the movie Patrick is working on. And like a Pynchon novel, Something New Under the Sun is concerned with fallacies of truth. But Kleeman’s question seems less about whether finding an objective truth is possible and more about the nature of truth through collective seeing ... At times the novel veers heavily into the philosophical and can feel a bit removed from the emotional stakes of the characters, but just when the book seems as if it will stray too far into the conceptual, Kleeman pulls us back in with a moment of humane insight. What is most compelling about Something New Under the Sun is how Kleeman has juxtaposed eco-radicalism beside climate catastrophe and shows the irony that even in a world gone up in flames, the radicals still appear unhinged compared to the pacified masses. Ultimately, the novel begs the question, is something truer simply because more people say it is?
Beginning with a hipster vibe that wickedly satirizes the frippery of Hollywood’s self-absorption, Kleeman’s dystopian tale heads inexorably into a dark, fatalistic exploration of the moral consequences of environmental destruction. With California’s ubiquitous wildfires raging in the background, Kleeman handles this existential crisis with verve and originality, displaying imagery that is stark and pulsating with a vibrancy fueled by a complexly rich imagination.
There are parts of Alexandra Kleeman’s Something New Under The Sun that reveal a young author of mesmerising talent. She takes a familiar trope—novelist goes to Hollywood, has bad time, leaves jaded, cynical and considering a job in IT—and breathes witty, catty life into it ... Kleeman’s prose snaps and crackles ... The author has a dry, Chandler-esque wit ... Something New’s final section is self-indulgent—the novel might be subtitled 'A thousand different ways to describe wildfire'—and, fatally, the reader’s attention wanders. A shame, because this is otherwise a fantastic read.
Kleeman creates a page-turning momentum ... The details are vivid, and the attention paid to the mundane simultaneously clarifies and alienates, while her characters often lack the agency to stop what is happening to them ... The difference in Something New Under The Sun is that both its world and characters are more fully fleshed out. Patrick and Cassidy are especially alive, with an energetic dynamic that grows in surprising ways ... Occasionally, the book also feels overstuffed ... Something New Under The Sun melds its portrait of a burning world to an engaging, well-executed conspiracy thriller—merging so-called climate fiction with another genre. As our reality grows to resemble imagined apocalyptic futures, it’s the type of novel you can expect to see more of.
Kleeman’s novel is idea-driven, a critique of the artifice of consumerism and Hollywood culture in which that artifice is heightened on each page, from characters talking in polished soliloquies to the ominous ubiquity of WAT-R bottles in everyone’s hands. Everything in this world is deliberately just a little bit off, like the slight telltale warp of a Photoshopped selfie. While some readers might find the novel overly conceptual, it’s undeniably fun to watch Kleeman juggle genre, from mystery to domestic drama, from cli-fi to ghost story ... An admirably eclectic take on environmental dystopia.
... ranging and ambitious ... While a few plot twists are telegraphed, the action is propulsive and entertaining even as the horrors of climate change smolder around every corner. Readers will be captivated by this intelligent, rip-roaring story.