East-coast novelist Patrick Hamlin has come to Hollywood with simple goals in mind: overseeing the production of a film adaptation of one of his books, preventing starlet Cassidy Carter's disruptive behavior from derailing said production, and turning this last-ditch effort at career resuscitation into the sort of success that will dazzle his wife and daughter back home. But California is not as he imagined: drought, wildfire, and corporate corruption are omnipresent, and the company behind a mysterious new brand of synthetic water seems to be at the root of it all.
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.