Overthrow is legitimately great psychological fiction. Crain excels at describing, with precision and economy, intimacy’s dance of knowledge, ignorance, and pretense.
A novel about the fate of candor, good will, and the utopian spirit in a world where technology and surveillance are weaponizing human relationships
One autumn night, as a grad student named Matthew is walking home from the subway, a handsome skateboarder catches his eye. Leif, a poet as well as a skater, invites Matthew to take part in an experiment with tarot cards. It’s easier to know what’s in other people’s minds than most people realize, Leif and his friends claim. Do they believe in telepathy? Can they actually do it? Instead of writing his dissertation, Matthew soon finds himself falling for Leif and entangled with his friends, who are as idealistic as the Occupy encampment they like to visit.
A 19th-century social novel for the 21st-century surveillance state. Frequently alluding to Henry James’s “The Princess Casamassima,” another story of young radicals, Crain subjects his characters to quandaries that test their precariously entwined identities. The novel almost dares readers to object to its inwardness — “It’s like there’s a new sumptuary law against introspection,” one of the four complains — but its tender, psychologically precise prose feels like a bulwark against the exposure it takes for a subject.
Against the plot concerning our main characters lies a much more sinister counter-plot; against each attempt at activist hacking, a reassertion of state-mandated counter-hacking. The central paradox of reading Crain’s novel is that even as we learn more, these revelations often return us to just how little it is we know at all. . . . It is, at heart, a novel that repeatedly asks: What makes a good reader?
Necessary Errors was rigorously naturalistic and finely polished. Overthrow is playfully fantastical—Crain frequently invokes Shakespearean romance—and, if not plot-driven, at least plot-friendly. Henry James is still the tutelary spirit; but it’s the James of The Princess Casamassima (alluded to on several occasions) and The Sacred Fount—the James interested in radical politics and unashamed of messing around with the supernatural. Overthrow, in other words, does what a second novel should do: It risks something.
The novel is virtuosic in mining beauty and pathos from the texture of daily life; reading Crain’s prose can feel like seeing a world made hyper-real, crisper and more intense, as through some phenomenological Instagram filter.
Overthrow captures the depth of disconnection that the online world creates, and the dread and depression it sows. . . . Crain’s chief goal is to put a narrative shape around the inchoate sense of dread that we have around technology, the way we sense we’re being manipulated in ways we can’t quite pinpoint. And in that regard, “Overthrow” accomplishes its mission. . . . Swapping human connection for an algorithm of convenience is a lousy bargain, Crain argues. His novel is a sensitive, provocative plea to recognize what gets lost in the exchange.
A carefully unsentimental book.
What a brilliant, terrifying, and entertaining book Caleb Crain has written! It is part subtle novel of contemporary manners, part intellectual legal thriller, and part prophetic dystopia: Henry James meets Bonfire of the Vanities against the backdrop of the Occupy movement and the growing surveillance power of Leviathan. It’s a novel to be read now and reread years from now—a tour de force.
There’s an excerpt in the August 2019 issue of Harper’s magazine.
- Tuesday, August 27, 7:30pm: Books Are Magic, 225 Smith St., Brooklyn.
With readings by Christine Smallwood, Jana Prikryl, Daniel Smith, and Leon Neyfakh.
Telephone: (718) 246-2665.
- Thursday, September 5, 7:30pm: The Strand, 828 Broadway (at 12th St.), Manhattan.
In conversation with Kate Bolick.
Admission with the purchase of a signed copy of Overthrow or a Strand gift card.
Telephone: (212) 473-1452.
- Sunday, September 8, 4pm: McNally-Jackson, South Street Seaport, 4 Fulton Street (a new location for the store!), Manhattan.
In conversation with Astra Taylor.
- Wednesday, September 18, 6pm: Book Passage, 1 Ferry Building, San Francisco.
In conversation with Anna Wiener.
Telephone: (415) 835-1020.
- Saturday, September 21, 4pm: Book Soup, 8818 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, California.
In conversation with Elaine Blair.
Telephone: (310) 659-3110.
- An interview by Gil Roth, in episode 334 of the Virtual Memories Show podcast
- Has Caleb Crain Written the First Occupy Wall Street Novel?” by Christopher Bollen, Interview Magazine, 26 August 2019
- An interview by Amy Guth, of Chicago’s WGN Radio, mostly about unions but also about Overthrow
- An interview by James McDonald Feder, for Kirkus
- An interview with myself, at the website of Powell’s bookstore of Portland, Oregon
Social media sightings:
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Two beautifully written books that are a little bit terrifying while capturing the unease and ambiguity that threaten our contemporary lives. You’ll find hope in Davis-Goff’s all female fighting force and Crain’s story of love and friendship. ♥️📚#bebookishfs #shopdowntownfs #shoplocal #loveyourindie #overthrow #lastonesleftalive
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A new novel by @cablecrain ! Romance, technology, and telepathy in the Occupy Movement. It’s always a wonderful period of anticipation to wait for a favorite author’s next book. I have been looking forward to the release of this title for quite awhile and can’t wait to read it. #whatimreading #bookstagram #bookstagrammer #calebcrain #vikingbooks #newreleasebooks #booksaddict #currentread #coverlove
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Today marks the publication of @cablecrain ’s brilliant and daring second novel Overthrow. Called by the NYTimes a “19th century social novel for the 21st century surveillance state,” it is also the first great occupy novel. If you are looking for an immersive, beautiful, Jamesian read that helps makes sense of our world, this is the book!