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.
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.