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UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

This is it, whispered Carter, the nest of
the Nephilim, the layer of the Archon.
I don't think I was asked to honour the old convention that a freebie necessitates an honest if gently favourable review (at least I can find no written proof). I will however, name-check the generous (and possibly over-optimistic) @TheWorkshyFop, editorial director of the independent British publisher, Dodo Ink, from whose proof boxes of new November lead titles this one arrived. Thank you, sir!

I recall James Miller, specifically Lost Boys, from the dim and distant past. It may have been a commission for Waterstones Books Quarterly, or perhaps I was doing a solid for the Little, Brown sales rep. Regardless, I remember nothing about the book except being underwhelmed. From reading old reviews, it seems it had the coat-tails of the contemporaneous zeitgeist in its teeth, but one slightly savage Guardian review* points out it was pretty badly done. This might explain why I remember very little, perhaps proving Auden's assertion that, "some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered."

I'd feel pretty bad (smug, but bad) laying into Miller's new book simply because it uses a form of the Quixotic found-manuscript trope, particularly as I've been guilty of exactly the same. However, it does; an email exchange with a paranoid scribbler leads to the receipt of a collection of short related stories which the 'author' publishes.


In truth, they're a lot of fun, if rather profane. There are some weak characters, notably the academic on his way to investigate an archaeological discovery, but the cast of trailer trash, crazy evangelicals, suffering children, internet porn stars, and vampires (why not?) is very entertaining, each with their own thread of unreliable, interwoven narrative, and the mysterious anomaly afflicting Iowa is suitably intriguing. It is a pop-culture tour of the American sewers. But I found there was little meat in this sandwich, it was perhaps a little too trim, and it left me unsatisfied. I'd have loved to have read this fleshed out into a longer form, and while I'm not sure Miller has matured any further than my hazy powers of recollection can judge, at least he's writing something I actually want to read. If I was in the habit of giving ratings, it might merit a three-and-a-half out of five, but I'm not so it doesn't. Give it a shot.


*Admittedly by James Hawes, a chap whom erstwhile booksellers in Cardiff may remember occasionally plagued the stores with pleas to stock his novels Rancid Aluminium and A White Merc With Fins, to no avail.

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