In rural Maine, Gordon St. Onge, known as "The Prophet”, presides over his controversial Settlement, a place rumored to be a cult, where his many wives and children live off the grid and off the land. Out in greater America, Bruce Hummer, the aging CEO of a multinational corporation, lays off workers by the thousands. Meanwhile, the newest member of the Settlement, fifteen year old Brianna, is fired up and ready for change.
The events of the novel take place circa-Y2K, but Chute’s concerns seem very 2020: how reality is named, created, fragmented, trolled, distorted ... the writing is often wicked gorgeous ... This is a book that doesn’t want you to worry too much about, like, story ... In place of a traditional plot, Chute allows characters to slowly emerge, exert a kind of magnetic pull and then recede. It feels like the literary equivalent of a big choir with occasional soloist ... So there’s a moral in here regarding the delusion of endless growth. And, O.K., sure, maybe it’s ironic that a 2,600-page four-novel cycle seems to have, at its heart, an argument against bigness. But maybe it would be more accurate to say it’s an argument against scale — specifically, the enormous global capitalist scale that tends to flatten things that are complicated and idiosyncratic and human ... Many of the reporters and reviewers who’ve covered Chute over her career have focused — almost fetishistically — on her ruralness...And in this new book, Chute seems aware of — and prickly about — these particular signifiers...so Chute tries to provide that insight, that language — thousands of pages of it, hundreds of them here — reclaiming certain essentializing words like 'redneck' and 'backwoods,' clichéd words that obscure reality ... Chute’s epic project is to make all of us, finally, see.
Chute once again takes on politics, class, and the complexities of friendship and love, managing her multiple characters and viewpoints with the use of icons. Rather than plot, characters and relationships drive this novel with a fierce political vision that feels uniquely tailored for our times.
Chute is at pains to have Gordon denounce 'Republican bullshit' and 'so-called Christians' to his militia buddies, and she’s backed off her previous contempt for middle-class progressives; Settlement residents form a relationship of wary mutual respect with a group of left-wing grassroots organizers. Nonetheless, Gordon’s and his author’s hearts are always with 'the poor, meek, dishonored, deformed, disheartened, and displaced,' and Chute makes it brutally clear that until the left gets over its distaste for 'redneck[s]' and poor whites who refuse to be manipulated by racists, the same people will keep running the world ... A few juicy personal conflicts keep the novel from devolving entirely into a political tract—but then again, Chute’s fierce political vision has always been the most interesting thing about her work ... Messy, confrontational, way too long—and essential reading.