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2 A.M. in Little America

by Ken Kalfus

2 A.M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus X
2 A.M. in Little America by Ken Kalfus
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    May 2022, 256 pages

    Paperback:
    Sep 2022, 256 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Elisabeth Herschbach
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About this Book

Book Summary

From "an important writer in every sense" (David Foster Wallace), a novel that imagines a future in which sweeping civil conflict has forced America's young people to flee its borders, into an unwelcoming world.

One such American is Ron Patterson, who finds himself on distant shores, working as a repairman and sharing a room with other refugees. In an unnamed city wedged between ocean and lush mountainous forest, Ron can almost imagine a stable life for himself. Especially when he makes the first friend he has had in years―a mysterious migrant named Marlise, who bears a striking resemblance to a onetime classmate.

Nearly a decade later―after anti-migrant sentiment has put their whirlwind intimacy and asylum to an end―Ron is living in "Little America," an enclave of migrants in one of the few countries still willing to accept them. Here, among reminders of his past life, he again begins to feel that he may have found a home. Ron adopts a stray dog, observes his neighbors, and lands a repairman job that allows him to move through the city quietly. But this newfound security, too, is quickly jeopardized, as resurgent political divisions threaten the fabric of Little America. Tapped as an informant against the rise of militant gangs and contending with the appearance of a strangely familiar woman, Ron is suddenly on dangerous and uncertain ground.

Brimming with mystery, suspense, and Kalfus's distinctive comic irony, 2 A.M. in Little America poses several questions vital to the current moment: What happens when privilege is reversed? Who is watching and why? How do tribalized politics disrupt our ability to distinguish what is true and what is not? This is a story for our time―gripping, unsettling, prescient―by one of our most acclaimed novelists.

II

In my next country of residence no one believed I was a tourist, not at the airport when I arrived nor when I looked for places to live and work. It was hard to find work and then once I did, in a food-processing plant, I overstayed my visa, until I couldn't any longer. Further crackdowns were coming. I went to another country and then another after that, each move a last-minute escape from a looming migrant center or prison. One desert border was crossed on foot with about a dozen other undocumented travelers of diverse origins, led by smugglers who did not know the way as well as advertised. The noonday frigidity broke records, yet in its lack of relief, its desolation, its stillness, and its boundless, cloudless, birdless sky, the desert was a place of strange and absolute beauty. Every one of the desperate migrants was aware of this beauty, this gorgeousness, this transcendence, this manifestation of perfect harmony, as if it were a discrete, substantial item, its ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Part dystopian thriller, part political allegory, 2 A.M. in Little America is an intriguing, at times cryptic read with Kafkaesque elements that brilliantly evoke a sense of anxiety and alienation, estrangement and displacement. Ron's memories shift in and out of focus, facts dissolve into uncertainty, identities blur and even the city he moves through morphs into a surreal landscape of optical illusions as the glass buildings he passes cast off a dizzying array of reflections—vividly symbolizing the disorientation that ensues when the narratives we rely on to make sense of the world are disrupted and our perception of reality fractures into a multiplicity of perspectives...continued

Full Review Members Only (586 words).

(Reviewed by Elisabeth Herschbach).

Media Reviews

Esquire, "Best Books of Spring 2022"
Kalfus is one of contemporary literature's best-kept secrets. He's a writer's writer through and through, but with 2 A.M. in Little America, he's poised to make a major crossover into the mainstream ... Kalfus explores powerful questions about tribalization, alienation, and exile.

Foreword Reviews (starred review)
As it progresses, [this] tale becomes a potent warning about the consequences of ideological fervor. Heartbreaking and sobering, the dystopian novel 2 A.M. in Little America has the makings of a modern classic.

Literary Hub, "Most Anticipated Books of 2022"
Ken Kalfus is American literature's best-kept secret: his ideas are weird, his writing is limber, his ironic eye is gimlet, and yet no one seems to talk about him. Maybe that will change with [2 A.M. in Little America]...I've been waiting for a new novel from him since 2013's insane, high-concept Equilateral, and I can't wait to dig in.

New York Times
[D]eeply intriguing...a tense and often beautiful work of reflection on the American present...Race and class conflicts are at the heart of the real-life disorder Americans are living, but Kalfus elides those differences in this work. Still, 2 A.M. in Little America is a highly readable, taut novel.

Washington Post
Kalfus has a gift for penetrating to the core of current events and presenting issues in a provocative way...2 A.M. in Little America often feels like the literary equivalent of an elegant coffee table with one leg slightly shorter than the rest: well constructed but lopsided. Yet readers receptive to its qualities won't mind a little wobble here and there.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
From the undersung Kalfus, another tonally intricate triumph, this one about the bewilderment, alienation, and sheer strangeness of being a refugee...A strange, highly compelling tale about what happens when American privilege and insulation get turned inside out.

Publishers Weekly
Kalfus returns with a subtly provocative dystopian story...Part of the thrill of Kalfus's engrossing story is in how he pieces together the details of his near-future world...[2 A.M. in Little America] takes hold on the reader.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Camera Obscura

19th century black-and-white illustration of an artist tracing a reflected image on the top of a camera obscura box A central theme in 2 A.M. in Little America is the difficulty of distinguishing between truth and illusion, and Pushcart Prize-winning writer and journalist Ken Kalfus uses recurrent imagery throughout the novel of mirrors, lenses and reflective surfaces to symbolize the way that our perception of reality is filtered through and refracted by our own subjective experience—like the "cacophony of reflected images" Ron Patterson sees bouncing off the mirrored surfaces of a glass building he passes on the way to work.

In a particularly suggestive scene, Ron comes across assorted tools in a science classroom that set off a cascade of memories from his own high school physics class—bits and pieces of equipment, concave and ...

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