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This article was published 21/5/2010 (3735 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Warhol Gang
By Peter Darbyshire
HarperCollins, 308 pages, $23
THERE is a memorable scene in David Fincher's film adaptation of the cult novel Fight Club in which Edward Norton's unnamed character visualizes his apartment as an Ikea catalogue, complete with onscreen prices and product descriptions.
It is a surreal and humorous moment that tosses aside subtlety as it hits its audience head-on with its anti-consumerist message.
Imagine that scene stretched out into an entire novel and you have The Warhol Gang, an entertainingly bizarre futuristic tale of loneliness from Toronto-based writer Peter Darbyshire.
The characters in Darbyshire's second novel regard the Swedish furniture retailer -- and a few other chain stores and restaurants -- with an almost church-like reverence, and the story's climactic moment even takes place between aisles of flat-pack furniture.
As in Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club, the protagonist's real name is never given. He is known only by the code name Trotsky, which is given to him when he starts his new position at Adsenses, a "neuromarketing" company that analyzes brain responses to product images.
Later he becomes part of an underground resistance movement and is known as Warhol.
When he is introduced, Trotsky works in a generic office tower that is reflected in another generic office tower across the street; he lives alone in an apartment three blocks away -- another glass building that reflects more glass buildings; and everything is connected by an underground mall, so he never has to go outside.
He seeks human interaction with his co-workers, but they also only have code names -- such as Reagan, Nader and Thatcher -- and lie in pods all day, being bombarded with product images. The workplace is so lacking in humanity that regular "rampaging co-worker drills" are held.
As the product images begin to appear to Trotsky outside of the pod, he feels increasingly disconnected with the real world. But along the way he meets a member of a resistance group that convinces him to buy a police radio scanner and soon he is chasing accident scenes, where being near those who are dying helps him feel more alive.
Starting by posing as an EMT worker he becomes more involved in each scene, and soon he and Holiday -- a fame-seeking female sex worker that he connects with -- become online celebrities through Panoptical, a CNN/YouTube hybrid hosted by an attractive woman named Paris.
The resistance offers Trotsky/Warhol an escape from the mind-numbing nature of his daily life. But as the videos become more popular, the underground group grows tremendously, leaving our anti-hero to worry that "the resistance is turning into Wal-Mart."
Darbyshire is never subtle with his themes of anti-consumerism and the lure of fame. He is clearly influenced by Fight Club's subversive style (the book is being hyped as "Fight Club meets The Office"), as well as by works like A Clockwork Orange, Natural Born Killers and even Star Trek (the concept of the Enterprise's "holodeck" is taken to a disturbing new level in a mall attraction that puts users in the middle of any caught-on-video tragedy of their choosing, such as the Princess Diana crash or the 9/11 terrorist attack).
The Internet and, more specifically, online videos also inspire this work. The short snappy chapters move the story at just the right pace for the YouTube-conditioned reader, making this pop culture treasure trove a fast-paced, even addictive read.
Alan MacKenzie is a Winnipeg based writer and actor.
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