As Valentine’s Day approached, I, like most red-blooded Americans probably, found my thoughts turning to Richard Nixon. Coincidentally, I was absorbed by Austin Grossman’s latest novel, “Crooked.” “Crooked” is the first-person account of Richard Nixon’s rise to power and fall from power, and subsequent rise to power and fall from power. While others have chronicled Nixon’s life, none before have touched on the terrifying truth: Nixon was one of the few that knew the U.S. and U.S.S.R. had moved beyond the mutually assured destruction via mundane nuclear weaponry and were onto mutually assured destruction via weaponized monsters and pacts made with the elder gods that walked the earth before being banished below the surface.
It’s no surprise that Henry Kissinger was a thousand-year-old sorcerer, but the reader won’t expect to learn that Dwight Eisenhower could stop a bullet with magic, or that the British had long been allies with a miles-long krakken, and that the monster had plucked German planes out of the sky during World War II. These sorts of treats are abundant in the novel, as are fantastic sentences such as follows:
I had, I realized, lost track of whether I was a centrist Republican stalwart, a right-wing anti-Communist demagogue, a mole for Soviet intelligence, the proxy candidate for a Bavarian sorcerer, or the West’s last hope against an onrushing tide of insane chthonic forces.
Near the beginning of the novel we get a glimpse of Nixon’s fabled romantic streak and a taste of what is to come:
This is a tale of espionage and betrayal and the dark secrets of a decades-long cold war. It is a story of otherworldly horror, of strange nameless forces that lie beneath the reality we know. In other words, it is the story of a marriage.
Also, the reader learns why Nixon sweated so much during that one debate, and what was up with that Watergate debacle.
Grossman’s experiences as a video game designer provided fodder for his previous novel, “You.” The tale of a successful video game studio whose co-founder died and left behind a bug that threatened to break their gaming engine, much of the novel is spent watching the narrator play video games as he searches for the bug, which is more exciting than it sounds, unless you love watching people play video games, in which case it is approximately as exciting as it sounds.
Those weary of superheroes being confined to movie theaters, televisions, comics, Halloweens, lunchboxes and underwear will devour Grossman’s first novel, “Soon I Will Be Invincible.” A story of superheroes and a super-villain, it alternates chapters between their perspectives, and while it is funny, it’s an homage to the genre rather than a spoof. Even those who don’t wish for constant immersion in comic book universes should find the novel to be a well-written romp with a big heart. The reader will learn that sometimes superheroes have tremendous trouble in their personal lives, that they often rely on painkillers and sometimes super-villains are reduced to stealing away into the night with an entire ATM in order to pay the rent.