Thursday, July 7, 2016

Neon Green

Neon Green by Margaret Wappler
The Unnamed Press: 7/12/16
eBook review copy; 246 pages
ISBN-13: 9781939419712

Neon Green by Margaret Wappler is a highly recommended alternate history novel set in 1994 in Prairie Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and follows the Allen Family, Ernest and Cynthia, and their two teenagers Alison and Gabe. In this 1994, you can enter a sweepstakes to have a spaceship from Jupiter land in your backyard for 9 months, give or take a few weeks. Everything else is the 1994 you remember.

Ernest Allen, environmental activist and family patriarch, is indignant that Gabe entered the contest and actually won. Once the spaceship lands in their backyard, he is outraged and immediately corners Gabe, the only person over 16 who would have dared enter the sweepstakes. He then starts calling New World Enterprises, the company sponsoring the spaceships. First he wants them to remove it because he is sure that the ship is not environmentally safe and is dumping toxins into their yard every time it dumps gallons of neon green fluid onto his lawn. The EPA has declared it is safe, and Ernest has now real recourse, except to nag New World with phone calls. What kind of environmental footprint is this thing leaving?

He also has his family start a journal to record everything the spaceship does, including it's almost nightly show of lights and beeps and any discharge of the green liquid. They do this, but they also record other, less serious things, much to Ernest's consternation. He is very serious about the log. Ernest becomes increasingly obsessed and paranoid, inflicting his family with his daily preoccupations and diatribes. He really thinks that everyone should feel the same way he does. This obsessing is an on-going pattern for Ernest.

Ultimately, this is not a novel about the spaceship or aliens. It's a dysfunctional family saga. It's about how one man's obsession is affecting his whole family, and making them all suffer needlessly because he needs to blame something. Ernest may be freaking out over the spaceship, but he could just as easily be obsessing over the effect high voltage power lines and/or electromagnetic fields could have on his family's health.

Wappler's story is quite funny at times, especially Gabe and Alison reactions, but it is also heartbreaking. I really grew to dislike Ernest and felt that if he was really that serious, he should have tried to move. I would imagine there would be some kind of real estate market for a home with a spaceship in the backyard. He was so focused on it that he completely lost track of what he claimed to care about - his family - until it was too late to save what was left. My heart broke for Cynthia. She still loved him, but she deserved better from Ernest.

Neon Green is well written, but it also seemed to move slowly. This is a novel for those who like literary fiction involving a dysfunctional family in a unique setting. It isn't a novel for fans of science fiction. The spaceship is there, but it's simple a large visual representation of Ernest's character trait of obsessing over various subjects. Gabe and Alison were highlights. Neon Green could be a good choice for a book club because I imagine there are alternate views. Based on your devotion to environmental causes, you might appreciate Ernest much more than I did, and accept his flaws much easier.

Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of the publisher for review purposes.

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