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Bockoven, 2018. Fantasticland.

Posted: Feb 05, 2024 12:02;
Last Modified: Feb 05, 2024 13:02


Bockoven, Mike. 2018. Fantasticland. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.

Fantasticland is a novel set in a Florida amusement park after a major hurricane (“Sadie”). Or rather, it consists of interviews with people who had been involved with the park during and after the hurricane: people who had been trapped there, first responders, the park owner, and so on.

The story, which comes out in pieces from the interviews, is a cross between Hurricane Katrina and the New Orleans Superdome, Lord of the Flies, and Heart of Darkness/Apocalypse Now: after the hurricane hits and the park is cut off, the employees form groups and end up in various battles (this shouldn’t require a spoiler alert since it is all over the cover blurbs).

I suppose the “told through interview” narrative (also Daisy Jones and the Six) is a form of the Epistolary novel, and Bockoven does a really great job of it from a plotting perspective: he manages to deliver the plot without the format getting in the way; certainly I found it very clear to follow. We learn about major characters and events and see them from different angles without much confusion.

A second thing with this style of narration is whether the characters being interviewed are well handled (which in this case is quite a task since each interviewee is interviewed once and there are a dozen or so interviews). In this I think the case is mixed. On the whole I’d say there’s relatively solid differentiation, but at the same time also an unavoidable similarity of voice (it would be interesting to do some statistical analysis and see how different they actually are). My biggest complaint in that regard is probably that a few of the characters fall into easy stereotype/cliché — particularly the first responders and the psychopath.

One thing the novel does extremely well is fit itself into the modern technological world (I’m also reading Infinite Jest which I think does this less well, although it is set farther into the future relative to its date of writing, I think, than is Fantasticland): brand names, technology, apps, etc. are all handled pretty well, I thought, and certainly fairly seamlessly. This is actually a pretty major problem in literature since the middle of the 19th century: I rarely find that Victorian novelists (e.g. Trollope) get newspapers right, for example. But Bockoven does it well.

A quibble that I have with the book, however, is the way Bockoven’s narrator (and others) blames social media for the events in the park: the basic gist seems to be that the kids fell into tribal battles so quickly because of helicopter parenting and social media withdrawal. Personally, I wonder — especially given the “greenroom”-style interviewing — if a better target to blame would have been reality TV.

But what’s to blame isn’t really a fiction question: to the degree that Fantasticland is an issues novel, it is really a debate about the issue.





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