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By Terence Hawkins
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
The last book I read by author Terence Hawkins was The Rage of Achilles, a well-done novel but nothing too terribly groundbreaking (it's simply The Iliad rewritten with modern language and slang); so imagine my surprise after reading his latest, the haunting and flabbergasting American Neolithic, and realizing that it's quite literally one of the top three books I've read in the last several years, a shocker that came out of left field for me and which made it even more enjoyable. At its heart it's a speculative tale -- the story of the very last tribe of Neanderthals in existence, who through a convoluted series of events have ended up "hiding in plain sight" within a contemporary Manhattan, with one of the members being mistaken for a developmentally challenged human by a rap gang and sort of adopted as a beloved yet laughed-at member of their posse. But when a rival gang member is killed and the blame shifted onto our hapless "Blingbling," this is where the story suddenly starts getting even meatier; for it turns out we're not in contemporary Manhattan at all, but rather a near-future America that has effectively weathered a coup by the Tea Party, which among other things has made it illegal to talk about evolutionary theory in public, which suddenly makes it a national security problem when Blingbling turns out to have DNA that is utterly unlike modern human genetics. Then if this wasn't enough, the book is a hardboiled crime and courtroom procedural as well, as our hero lawyer Raleigh navigates the tricky waters of a "justice" system under a semi-fascist state, trying through black humor and shady dealings to keep his own hide afloat while not letting down this most curious new client of his.
Already an amazing novel just from the premise alone, what tips this into one of the best books of recent memory is that the entire thing is written in this beautifully poetic style, presenting a clan of cavemen in a startlingly original way that few would ever think of presenting themselves, a heartbreaking story of migration and loss that is fascinating, clever, and bleakly funny in equal measure. About as perfect as a novel gets, which is why it's receiving a rare 10 out of 10 from me, American Neolithic floored me at a moment when I was least expecting it, and it will undoubtedly be making CCLaP's best-of lists at the end of the year. If you're going to read only one contemporary speculative novel this year, make it this one.
Out of 10: 10