Review: The Subprimes is Primo Satire

J.G. Follansbee

The Subprimes cover Karl Taro Greenfeld’s The Subprimes is first-rate satire. I read Karl Taro Greenfeld’s The Subprimes in the midst of Seattle’s hottest summer in a century, so it was easy to imagine the characters in this laugh-out-loud satire surviving the burning dust of an expired exurb. I have a specific interest in climate change as a narrative force, and the novel’s slow strangulation of the environment makes for a lot of black humor. For instance, endangered whales beach themselves on both coasts, and they become a kind of living—and dying—parentheses enclosing an America gone crazy with Ayn Rand ideology.

Greenfeld’s near-future is an economic dystopia, but most dystopias are utopias for someone. In The Subprimes, the beneficiaries are in-power libertarians led by the inheritors of Republican Senator Paul Ryan, the failed vice-presidential candidate who lends his name to “Ryanvilles,” squatters camps of individuals and families—the eponymous “subprimes”—who lost their homes after…

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