Review: The Heap by Sean Adams

Rating: 8.0/10

Synopsis

“As intellectually playful as the best of Thomas Pynchon and as sardonically warm as the best of Kurt Vonnegut, The Heap is both a hilarious send-up of life under late capitalism and a moving exploration of the peculiar loneliness of the early 21st century. A masterful and humane gem of a novel.”

— Shaun Hamill, author of A Cosmology of Monsters

Blending the dark humor of Patrick deWitt and the jagged social and techno-satire of Black Mirror, an audacious, eerily prescient debut novel that chronicles the rise and fall of a massive high-rise housing complex, and the lives it affected before—and after—its demise.

Standing nearly five hundred stories tall, Los Verticalés once bustled with life and excitement. Now this marvel of modern architecture and nontraditional urban planning has collapsed into a pile of rubble known as the Heap. In exchange for digging gear, a rehabilitated bicycle, and a small living stipend, a vast community of Dig Hands removes debris, trash, and bodies from the building’s mountainous remains, which span twenty acres of unincorporated desert land.

Orville Anders burrows into the bowels of the Heap to find his brother Bernard, the beloved radio DJ of Los Verticalés, who is alive and miraculously broadcasting somewhere under the massive rubble. For months, Orville has lived in a sea of campers that surrounds the Heap, working tirelessly to free Bernard—the only known survivor of the imploded city—whom he speaks to every evening, calling into his radio show.

The brothers’ conversations are a ratings bonanza, and the station’s parent company, Sundial Media, wants to boost its profits by having Orville slyly drop brand names into his nightly talks with Bernard. When Orville refuses, his access to Bernard is suddenly cut off, but strangely, he continues to hear his own voice over the airwaves, casually shilling products as “he” converses with Bernard.

What follows is an imaginative and darkly hilarious story of conspiracy, revenge, and the strange life and death of Los Verticalés that both captures the wonderful weirdness of community and the bonds that tie us together.

Review

Thanks to the publisher and author for an advance reading copy of The Heap in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this ARC did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel.

The Heap is a character-driven, immensely satirical, and wholly original debut that had me thumbing through pages quicker than ConductionSens shovels can alert you to live electrical currents. Adams uses a mix of present-day storytelling and pre-collapse glimpses of life in the Vert to provide a consistently entertaining romp through the life and times of Orville Anders. While most characters are given the chance to shine, Orville takes the cake when it comes to fully investing your time and attention to a protagonist and coming alongside him on his journey to find his brother.

The main characteristic of this novel that caught my attention and kept me engaged was the complete and utter ignorance of the characters. I don’t mean that in the sense that they didn’t know what was going on; more so that the things they were doing seem so foreign and outrageous to the reader. Completely normal to them in their day-to-day, but head-scratchily moronic to us. For instance, one of the opening chapters mentions the characters finding a “dead”, setting it to the side, lounging down on a leather courch, and partaking of the cold brews in the fridge. Like, what???

The humor set forth in The Heap brought me back to the early days of reading Josiah Bancroft’s The Books of Babel, especially Senlin Ascends. Yes, I get that the book only came out seven (7) years ago, but hey, I have only been reading religiously for about five (5). Maybe I should have Sean and Josiah sit down for a coffee and see who can come up with the most ridiculous scenario for a character. The sad part is, even though these characters are made up in works of fiction, we could probably point to someone in our life or an individual we have crossed paths with that would behave in such ways.

Thanks to the publisher, I had the pleasure of hosting Sean on my podcast back in December of 2019. In my opinion, being able to sit down and talk with him about writing, inspirations, etc. allowed me to engage with this novel more than had I gone into it completely blind. It also doesn’t hurt that I have read satire before, especially the likes of Tom Holt, Christopher Moore, and Douglas Adams. The list goes on, but you get the point. Dry humor isn’t for everyone, especially with a little tongue in cheek thrown in, but I eat it up.

I had a ton of fun with this novel, and it was a pretty quick read, what with short chapters and a page count around 320. If you enjoy wry humor, but character-driven stories, give The Heap a try.

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