For some readers, Sensation Machines, Adam Wilson's biting comedy of a post-Trump America, might start with two knocks against it. First, it stands in the last-century tradition of sprawling, brawling Great American novels by men that attempt to capture a nation and a moment's essence with lots of chatter about penises. Second: Wilson's vision of America after Trump posits the Occupy movement as the reason protesters have thronged the nation's streets, with Black Lives Matter as just one coalition beneath its umbrella. That means this novel about the near future is a step behind the year of its publication, a danger with fictional riffs on current events. Those riffs, though, are fierce and funny, as Wilson charts the failures, compromises and addictions of a generation of New Yorkers caught up in mass unemployment and the possible rise of an American socialism.
The question of a Universal Basic Income is the novel's heart, as a nominally progressive public relations wizard discovers that her baker husband's investments have failed and that her firm has been hired to whip up a last-minute campaign to convince Americans not to support a UBI bill. Her husband, meanwhile, finds himself facing a resonant choice: spend his night with protesters at a Funeral for Capitalism, or with bankers at a raging Gatsby Party? A murder, next-gen tech, videogame addiction and every kind of illegal drug figure into Wilson's lulu of a plot, but the pleasure here is the sharpness of Wilson's prose, his observant satire and the richly evocative feelings of loss. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor