Adam Wilson’s Sensation Machines (2020) is smart and disturbing, subversive and entertaining. It’s set in an eerily could-be-now New York City:
“Headlines warned of rising sea levels and methane emissions. Chronicled the continuing barrage of Weinstein-esque behavior in politics and entertainment. Addressed the uptick in anti-immigration violence in the wake of mass layoffs at fast food chains in Texas and Arizona, the right-wing backlash against the soda ban in public schools. It all just kept coming.”
But Wilson secures his narrative with two characters, whose perspectives alternate for much of the novel. Rooting the story in characterization issues an invitation to readers who do not gravitate towards dystopian fiction.
“I was still in mourning. I think that Michael saw, in Nina’s death, the loss of a future, whereas I felt the loss of a person I’d known. For nine months she’d been my roommate, a tiny human sharing my body’s resources. Michael only knew her as a nebulous mass. A mass that occasionally kicked.”
It’s actually not now, but it’s not far off either. (Details like the publication of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick’s co-authored self-help book, Bueller, anyone? Sex After Sixty, offer some clarity—Parker is now 55 years old and Broderick 58.)
The overt political commentary is relevant, however:
“People don’t read articles anymore, but if they’re exposed to enough headlines and pull quotes, they develop a false sense of being comprehensively informed. This is terrifying for all variety of reasons, not the least of which is that the researched and considered narrative is drowned out by the mob with the most stick-to-itive chant, but it’s great for someone like Wendy who controls the volume knob.”