Review: The Coyotes of Carthage, by Steven Wright
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. (To save your spoilers - this is a great book that I highly recommend, especially if you like a hero with a questionable moral compass and easily sold principles).
Hoo boy - this book does a lot in a tight 300 pages.
Basically, it is the story of Andre Ross, an associate at a political consulting firm - he's basically the one who shepherds campaigns of 'astro-turfing', campaigns meant to look like grassroots activism but really motivated by dark money. Andre has run into some troubles at his firm, and he's given this campaign in South Carolina, to convince a tiny county to agree to auction off public land to a company that's going to strip-mine it for gold and probably do lots of terrible things to the local environment; the story follows Andre's attempt to win the campaign in tiny, rural, hella backward Carthage County, and also the way Andre completely unravels throughout the novel.
This novel is supposed to serve as both a political thriller and a scathing social commentary, and I think the political thriller aspect of it functions much better than the social commentary. I was completely gripped by the story of the campaign and how the campaign itself mirrored Andre's downward spiral towards rock bottom - and the constant nature of Andre's terrible, terrible choices translated well into a sucking feeling of hopelessness that really underlined the grim nature of his dark money campaign. The social commentary occasionally felt a bit tacked on, as if Wright had forgotten that he wanted to do that as well.
Andre's internal monologue and character voice was amazingly well-crafted: witty, scathing, clever, and he very regularly gets off observations about the people who surround him were blisteringly funny in their cynicism and their cruelty. He's so damn mean, but the way Wright occasionally flashes back to Andre's backstory to explain his cruelty without ever excusing it or making it seem justified was really well handled. I hate myself a bit for laughing at how much contempt Andre has for the Southerners who surround him when he's in Carthage County, but... well, I don't disagree with him either. #LiberalMetropolitanElite
The ambiguity of the ending also worked for me really well, and I think fit in with the overarching feel of the novel very neatly - the fact that we don't know what happens to Andre, to his straw men, or even the outcome of the election that he completely spiralled into acts as a perfect end note to a book that threw a lot of nasty curve balls at every single character, and in which not a single character comes out looking like even a half-decent person.
All told, this was a very gripping, very compelling political thriller with a nuanced hero (I love a hero with a questionable moral compass) and a story that is absolutely worth following along with. I highly recommend this book, especially if you, like me, love a good political thriller and a hero who is, fundamentally, a bad man but is still fun to root for (I hope Andre is okay and he goes to therapy. He needs it.)
I look forward to reading whatever Steven Wright writes next!