Big Son is a spirit of the times—the times being 1837. Behind his broad shoulders, shiny hair, and church-organ laugh, Big Son practically made Ohio City all by himself. The feats of this proto-superhero have earned him wonder and whiskey toasts but very little in the way of fortune.
Pete Beatty’s very funny, rambunctious debut novel, Cuyahoga, is not a Trump-era allegory. It could be read with pleasure in 2002, or 1950It’s a satire of tall tales, but not a distant, too-cool treatment. Beatty, a Cleveland-area native, deeply inhabits the tone and style of the form, paying sidelong homage to an essential American genre ... Beatty’s style in the novel is what you might call Modified Huck: Grammatically concussed but knowing and down to earth. Beatty’s sentences in this mode are homespun and lyrical, without coming off as hokum ... as fun as any well-told campfire tale ... Cuyahoga covers a particular moment in history as well as a wide swath of America’s historical consciousness.
Whenever the narration risks feeling like regurgitated Huck Finn and its endless vernacular offspring, Meed pops off a rich one-liner, observation or incantation. Beatty evokes the familiarities of genre, history and place while drafting them for a wild new context. In this regard, Cuyahoga is a breezy fable of empire, class, conquest and ecocide ... Beatty revels in fabulizing a region he clearly knows and loves, while the reader is left to stew over the aftermath, over what home and memory and myth carry forth after the fire.
...really good: boldly conceived, imaginatively written and wholly original ... Following in the fantastical footsteps of novelists such as John Barth and Thomas Pynchon, Beatty uses his home state as a jumping-off point for a wild, far-fetched tale ... Beatty writes Medium Son’s narration using gloriously antiquated, overripe phrasing ... The book’s fantastical elements — as well as its sentence fragments, nonsense words, ungrammatical sentences and odd spellings — can take some getting used to ... these stylistic eccentricities help establish the world of the novel.