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.
When the group runs afoul of a government contractor, an avalanche of news coverage, internet outrage, and legal repercussions overwhelms them. Elspeth and Raleigh, two of Leif’s oldest friends, will see their relationship tested by the strain of criminal charges. Chris and Julia, who drifted into the group more recently, will have their loyalties questioned. Diana, a hardheaded sociologist, will need to find a way to stand with her friends without compromising her skepticism. And Matthew, entranced by the man at the center of it all, will have to decide what he owes Leif and how much he’s willing to give. All seven will be forced to reckon with the catch-22s of transparency and the insidious natures of power and privilege.
Overthrow is about the aftermath of idealism—about what happens after new technologies have begun to change the boundaries that we imagine around our selves. Caleb Crain has captured with astonishing sensitivity, acuity, and grace the unease and ambiguity that threaten our contemporary lives, and has written a beautiful novel about the redemptive possibilities of love and friendship.
But you can buy your copy now! It doesn’t have to be online—just ask at your local bookstore!
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.
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.
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.
Social media sightings of the advance galleys: