At the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, in a suburb of Chicago, Simon Oliver is trying to recover from his sister's tragic passing in a near-future America that is falling apart at the seams. He breaks out to join a woman named Louise and a boy called The Prophet on a quest to find The Wizard, whose past encounter with Louise sparked her own collapse.
... a hefty page-turner that’s equal parts horrific, catastrophic and, at times, strangely entertaining ... The off-the-rails world of Anthem will certainly be recognizable to readers—from the vigilante warfare on the streets to the life-threatening environmental calamities occurring on a frequent basis to the troubling tectonics of the U.S. political landscape. A large cast of heroes and villains populate the narrative (to the point where it can be difficult to keep everyone straight). Given the number of characters, only a handful of interior lives—namely Simon Oliver’s and Louise Conklin’s—are developed with any nuance or complexity ... Despite the breakneck speed of the narrative, there is an episodic rhythm to the pacing; one catastrophe piles on top of the other. Speaking to Hawley’s talents as a screenwriter, his dialogue brings the characters alive. Again and again, the exchanges are humorous, sad and revealing ... On the one hand, I appreciated the way he pauses the frenetic pace of the novel to contextualize his vision and intentions. On the other, these sections often read like an extended op-ed about the author’s views on the broken state of our nation. That said, this literary mechanism succeeds at unexpected moments ... Hawley’s concerns as a father ground this plump, pyrotechnic novel, giving its dramatic violence and outcome more depth and meaning.
...no one could ever accuse the author and award-winning creator of the television series Fargo of skimping on plot. His action-stuffed follow-up to Before the Fall is an exciting cautionary tale that addresses just about every social ill facing Western civilization ... Anthem touches on just about every contentious topic one could name, from gun culture and climate change to race relations, extremist politicians and the 'yelling box' that is the internet. The novel would have been stronger if Hawley had blended his themes more seamlessly into the narrative rather than letting his characters give speeches, but many of his painstakingly crafted scenes read like an action movie in book form.
Hawley the fiction writer is at his best when pitching his taut setup and its well-drawn cast of characters. The mystery of the dying teenagers, and the Prophet’s quest to confront a mysterious cruel man named the Wizard, will solidly hook in readers. The book’s premise is aided by its vivid characterizations ... After its promising opening sequences, though, Anthem loses its considerable magnetism and fails to regain it. The book’s focus frays and dissipates; chapters invest in new characters only to abandon them pages later, surge in new story directions before hitting a wall and limping back to an increasingly brittle main plot. These narrative moves feel less like daring experimentation and more like signs that the author has lost interest in his own novel and is looking for a new one.