It’s summer and time for a lighter blog than usual - and as my favourite book of 2013 so far has been about the property downturn, there is justification for this review of the splendid novel Fallen Land by Patrick Flanery.
The American Dream has long been a theme in literature but this book is one of the first to give the 21st century interpretation - in other words, The American Nightmare.
Paul Krovik, the developer at the heart of the story, is depicted as a man who has lived and breathed real estate since being a child. All he wanted to do was build, more and better than others: eventually, he got the chance to do just that with a symbol of property paranoia, a gated estate.
The trees got in the way of his dream estate, so he cuts them down; the neighbours complain about the infrastructure (lack of it at first, too much of it later) so he simply ignores them. What he couldn’t cut down or ignore was the 2006 US economic meltdown.
His development lies unfinished, his own home subject to foreclosure, his dreams in tatters - well, to everyone else except Krovik who lives in a hidden shelter beneath the home his family occupied as the estate was being built around them.
When another family moves in to the house, he sees no reason to leave and instead becomes a subterranean recluse: all he can build in the dark and in secret is a grudge against the occupants above and the neighbours gloating over his failure
It’s a riveting read on many levels.
Firstly, it’s an enjoyable yarn about obsession - Krovik’s obsession about building, then resisting foreclosure, then maintaining his secret life.
Secondly, it’s a tale about the foolishness of deference to age - adults in the household moving in above Krovik refuse to believe their son about the mystery stranger he spots, dismissing him as ‘childish’ merely because he is young and thus (automatically, naturally) either lying or mistaken.
But mostly this book is a story about modern America. It paints the country not as the glossy land where everyone or anyone can succeed, but as a place where failure stalks the streets.
It’s the post-downturn US, a country increasingly pessimistic as its economy becomes overtaken by China and India and the rest, and where on a daily basis things do not work as they once did - the fallen land of the title.
Depressing? Not at all. Exciting, enthralling, engaging: a perfect book for this summer’s beach or traffic jam...and with a property peg, you could even kid yourself you’re reading it for professional reasons.
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