As it turns out, good intentions alone aren’t quite enough to carry a novel. If they were, though, Stuart Archer Cohen’s new book, The Army of the Republic, would presently be entering the canon as a modern classic.
It’s the future, but a contemporary one — perhaps a few years post-Bush — and America resembles nothing so much as a Naomi Klein fever-dream. The entire country has been privatized, with corporations, backed by paramilitaries and propagandists, controlling formerly public goods like highways, national forests and reservoirs. The federal government, meanwhile, has taken to rigging the vote, and the national media sits cozily in the establishment’s pocket. Against this dystopian backdrop, bands of revolutionaries have popped up around the county, waging a guerrilla war of sorts against the aforementioned interests. Foremost among them is Lando, the handsome, espresso-swilling leader of “The Army of the Republic”, a Seattle-based cell that’s planning an attack on a new private pipeline owned by corporate overlord James Sands — a shady water company exec who also just happens to be (SPOILER ALERT!) Lando’s estranged father.
Essentially, Republic is the sort of book you might get were you to set Tom Clancy to work rewriting the World Socialist Website. Which is to say, a thriller, with all the hackneyed plotting, sawdust-stuffed characters and thinly veiled twists the genre typically entails. On the other hand, the narrative, obvious though it may be, does keep pulling a person along — and what more can you really ask from such a book than that? In fact, if anything, the story could have benefited from a bit more Clancy-fication. Cohen’s prose and ideas are too dully earnest for the novel to work as a particularly engaging polemic. When he spends time with the details of the revolutionary lifestyle, on the other hand, things become a little more lively. Who doesn’t want to know how to properly decorate a safe house, how to organize a hotel room hit on a notorious corporate raider, how to maintain anonymity while dating a movement hottie from the political action group down the block? After all, democracy is fine and good, but we want some entertainment.