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Five From Florida

Sunshine State literature makes for great gift-giving

Photo: Dawn Schreiner, License: N/A

Dawn Schreiner

Mule: A Novel of Moving Weight

Tony D’Souza Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
304 pages

Mule, a novel about middle-class drug trafficking, would make a great movie. In fact, once the notion entered my head, it was hard to shake it – beautiful young people in desperate situations, the thrill of the open highway and of, literally, getting away with it – and taken solely on that basis, Mule’s a great read. But, stripped of the druggy allure and moments of violence, it’s essentially a meditation on the failure of the American dream. When it’s this easy for James and Kate, a successful freelance journalist and his boutique-manager wife, to fall through the cracks, what’s wrong with the system? At least that seems to be the question at the core of the novel; as a minor character (a “hood” from Orlando’s Pine Hills neighborhood) puts it, “Shit’s exactly the same as shit’s always been. Y’all feeling it for a change is all.” Author Tony D’Souza has said that he was motivated to write Mule by facing the exact same situation as his protagonist. As James makes the loop from Northern California to Austin to Tallahassee to Sarasota, over and over again, drenched in existential terror, he’s eventually numbed, and that numbness infects the book’s nihilistic dénouement. Despite the hollow ending, though, Mule is a thought-provoking examination of getting carried away.


Alex Shakar Soho Press
432 pages

Fred Brounian, the protagonist of Luminarium, is staring at transformation – a lot of it. His twin and business partner is in a coma; wiped out by his brother’s medical bills, he’s living with his parents; the tiny game studio the two of them founded has morphed into a military simulation software firm; and, taking advantage of the power vacuum left by the twins’ dual absence, their younger brother plans to move the business from New York to Orlando. It’s no wonder he’s willing to participate in a shady neurological experiment – not only does he need the cash, he’s sorely in need of the spiritual awakening the scientists claim to be able to replicate. Luminarium might be called a post-post-9/11 novel, in that it deals not with the immediate trauma of the event, but with the trauma resulting from the trauma – the ramifications of choices made in the aftermath. Shakar’s evocation of the military-entertainment complex based in Orlando, of the megachurches and retention ponds of the relentlessly cheery Celebration, are spot-on, and the darkly comic scenes set in Kissimmee’s theme-park purgatory are worth the price of admission. The novel is rich with magic, absurdity and epistemological inquiry, but also some really good Disney slams.

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