One autumn night, as a grad student named Matthew is walking home from the subway, a handsome skateboarder named Leif invites Matthew to meet his friends. Do they believe in telepathy? Can they actually do it? Matthew soon finds himself falling in love with Leif--a poet of the internet age--and entangled with Leif's group as they visit the Occupy movement's encampment across the river, where they hope their ideas about radical empathy will help heal a divided world and destabilize the 1%.
... playfully fantastical — Crain frequently invokes Shakespearean romance — and, if not plot-driven, at least plot-friendly. Henry James is still the tutelary spirit; but it’s the James of The Princess Casamassima (alluded to on several occasions) and The Sacred Fount — the James interested in radical politics and unashamed of messing around with the supernatural. Overthrow, in other words, does what a second novel should do: It risks something ... good speculative fiction. The overarching conceit works well, even if the legal discussions of mind-reading slow things down. (Too much spitballing of legal defenses; too many peacocking press conferences) ... legitimately great psychological fiction. Crain excels at describing, with precision and economy, intimacy’s dance of knowledge, ignorance, and pretense ... It’s also a great gay novel, effortlessly moving between the arch and the serious ... Crain realistically and romantically does justice to our most real and romantic of powers.
... contemplative, foreboding ... There are a number of familiar ways a novel can address the subjects Overthrow, and Crain studiously avoids all of them. Nobody will confuse the novel for a thriller; on one of their first dates, Leif and Matthew pad through the Morgan Library, pondering the Gilded Age’s excesses. Though jails and the legal bureaucracy claim much of the stage, the mood rarely descends into Kafka-esque paranoia. And while it’s easy to imagine somebody like Tom Wolfe making a sweeping statement out of this material, stuffing his narrative with archetypes, Crain has declined to write the kind of social novel that’s thickened with detail about political movements and the institutions they tussle with ... Rather, Crain opts to tell this story at a more intimate level, with a degree of emotional acuity that recalls Henry James (whose work plays a modest but meaningful role in the story). At its strongest, Overthrow captures the depth of disconnection that the online world creates, and the dread and depression it sows ... Swapping human connection for an algorithm of convenience is a lousy bargain, Crain argues. His novel is a sensitive, provocative plea to recognize what gets lost in the exchange.
The narrative of Overthrow might itself be described as a competition of data versus poetry, information versus secrecy, knowing versus not knowing. For while Crain takes up the contemporary subjects of digital surveillance and technological terrorism, the novel itself sides with uncertainty and unknowing ... Crain’s prose sparkles most when it returns to scenes of private interiority, of personal anguish and emotional attunement. Even as the book conjures the dystopian potential of twenty-first-century techno-capitalism, its best scenes remain its more textured intimate moments. If the state seeks to conquer by force, then the kind of revolution Overthrow proposes—however cautiously—is one that rests in forms of unspoken, telepathic consent. It’s the kind of affective connection we might find, for instance, in a novel.