After losing her child and seeing the world as an increasingly dangerous place, a young Black woman from Boston decides to construct a separate society at an abandoned restaurant in Western Massachusetts. She locates a benefactor and soon it all begins to take shape, but it doesn't take long for problems to develop.
Given the size of the thing it indicts — not only America, but the entirety of modern society — it’s a somewhat spectacular achievement that Gabriel Bump’s second novel, The New Naturals, feels as fun as it does ... sharp, witty even in some of its darkest moments ... This sort of thing could get real dour real quick. Fortunately, Bump has a sense of humor, and makes good use of it. There are slivers of Denis Johnson here, especially in the dialogue, which often recalls the hospital scene from Jesus’ Son: people speaking through and around one another, the result uproarious, addictive and just removed from how most human beings actually talk. It’s delightful ... There are a couple of frustrating aspects to The New Naturals. The first is stylistic ... The other issue is pacing — or rather, the relationship between pacing and depth. Virtually every character in this novel is incredibly compelling. Rio and Gibraltar feel especially alive, in large part because of how well Bump renders the small contours of their love, even as their utopian dream spirals out of control. But the focus shifts from one set of characters to the next too haphazardly, and not all the narrative threads are reconciled as convincingly as one might hope ... Regardless, The New Naturals homes in on perhaps the most daunting anxiety of modern life: the sense that some load-bearing beam is about to cave, and there’s only a foggy, terrifying guess as to what comes next.
The New Naturals is two-thirds of a great novel. Gabriel Bump's satire boasts lively prose that feels like it races to make its points ... Natural, conversational dialogue drives the book to such an extent that for pages at a time, it's almost like a play ... The trouble is the utopia — which, not surprisingly, becomes a dystopia. After a couple hundred pages of preparing us for the dreamed-of society, The New Naturals skips over how it works, proceeding almost directly from utopian dreams to collapse, which comes about because a deus-ex-machina benefactor grows bored with the project ... The last section of the book disappoints because it starts to seem like The New Naturals is a bait-and-switch.
From the first pages, the novel is fast-paced, and conversations feel occasionally manic, with characters talking over one another in frenetic streams of consciousness. But it's the urgency of the prose that propels the narrative forward, keeping you engaged and invested. Bump’s characters’ motivations maybe be different, but their relatable desire for community, belonging and a better world unite them—even if the pursuit of utopia ultimately proves elusive.