A line running with its own logic from the Biblical wilderness to the theme-park; a link between motel-chains, breakfast cereals, Walt Disney and cryonic freezing: connections of this kind are impossibly eccentric, demonstrable only in the special surroundings of highly-coloured fiction provided by Max Apple's The Propheteers, which makes them into the threads of a very uncomfortable web indeed, one in which post-war American society is caricatured with remorseless precision, its values inflated into religious terms that seem ludicrous only at first. The book projects the visionary nature of the marketplace, the apotheosis of the entrepreneur, the patriarchal grandeur of the major corporations, and takes this religion seriously enough to understand the raptures of its more mystical reaches, its dream of pure consumerism, pure wealth, pure leisure and, of course, the life eternal. To do all this you need an extraordinary plot, and a canvas so big that the minute gradations of psychological realism are lost in its sweep, an animated cartoon rather than close-up naturalism. And on all the usual plot-and-character counts, The Propheteers is well out of step with more orthodox, and on the face of it more 'serious', attempts to get to grips with the candyfloss nightmare of modern America.
LRB 1 October 1987 | PDF Download