Noise (Book Review)

Noise Cover

Noise

Darin Bradley’s Noise tells of the chaos that follows a complete social and economic collapse in the near future. It is the story of a young man named Hiram who follows a movement called “Salvage”, which was dedicated to preparing for just such a collapse. Specifically, Salvage advocates forming a tight-knit tribe (Group) of people to take what they need and kill anyone in their way.

On the surface, Noise appears to be a ridiculous wish-fulfillment fantasy: The main characters encounter little serious resistance in their amoral path, and just happen to have all the training and luck they need to succeed. The “Event” that precipitated this new anarchy is never explained, but seems suspiciously convenient as an excuse for “one day I woke up and had to start killing people”. And the conceit behind Salvage is hard to believe, as well: This community communicates in nothing but obscure broadcasts over unused television frequencies. It has so many rabid followers that the small town of the novel has at least ten warring Groups, and yet it never became mainstream enough to move to the Internet or attract government intervention.

Despite these problems, the novel works. Part of it is the dense, chaotic prose, which can jump without warning between the present and the past, or even multiple events that are occurring simultaneously. Hiram’s backstory is filled out piecemeal as he draws parallels between his childhood and his present, as if he’s trying to justify all his violent actions as pre-ordained or generate a creation myth for his new Group. The writing style provides a glimpse into the narrator’s damaged psyche and ensures that the reader is always questioning him. If this violent story is someone’s wish-fulfillment fantasy, it’s obviously not the author’s.

The other thing that makes this story succeed is the system of rituals and psychological tools that inform Hiram’s interpretation of Salvage. Some are simple (“Hiram” is a new name that he chooses for his post-Event life), but others are complex and surprising. When possible, murders are performed by one member of the Group ordering another to do it, and they provide absolution for the act afterwards by making eye contact and announcing “What you did was right”. The dynamics of the Group have a control that borders on the fascist, but with a shifting, communal leadership that emphasizes the common good over any one person’s. And the fervor with which these people quote the “Book” they’ve created and hunger for new broadcasts from their favorite sources makes it clear that this is more a religion than a survival plan.

Most of all, Noise works because the author doesn’t stoop to any simple answers or feel the need to explain where he disagrees with Hiram. The plot may be straightforward once you’ve pierced the schizophrenic ramblings of Hiram’s narration, but there are only glimpses of a “true story” behind it. Hiram doesn’t realize how selectively his actions pick from the plan in his Book, and doesn’t seem to think about how the Group dynamics will work (or not) once they have settled down and started a new community. The obvious, Fight Club-like hunger for identity through this violence belies the idea that this is simply for survival. Given the choice, Hiram wants attempts to restore law and order to fail. Though the novel never says this, I strongly suspect that the “Event” which led to this post-apocalyptic situation was nothing more than a self-fulfilling prophecy by a critical mass of Salvage participants who had decided that the end was nigh.

Noise is not for everyone. It espouses a gruesome morality, but comes from a literate, deconstructionist source that will turn off people looking for a visceral thrill. It asks plenty of questions, but never raises them explicitly. Yet for all that, it clearly positions itself as a “low art” thriller that doesn’t have to mean anything, rather than aiming for weighty significance. If you can stomach that combination, you’ll find a novel that is sometimes exciting, sometimes disturbing, and always thought-provoking.

Grade: B+

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  1. June 11th, 2011

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