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Short reviews

Antagonistics: Capitalism and Power in an Age of War
Gopal Balakrishnan
Verso, 290pp, £14.99

The implications of the economic crisis for US foreign policy have largely been ignored by scholars, who all too often seek to isolate these disciplines. This collection of essays by New Left Review’s Gopal Balakrishnan expounds his prescient view that the debt-driven expansion that fuelled US hegemony was unsustainable.

He usefully reminds us that the remaining obstacles to a new age of US interventionism were largely dismantled under President Clinton, dispelling the notion that neoconservatism was a bizarre mutation.

Yet while Balakrishnan’s Marxist perspective retains immense analytical appeal, it is of little prescriptive value. He gives short shrift to those who believe the anti-globalisation movement can fill the void, but the “remorseless realities” of this world prevent him from offering a substitute.

However, his left-wing critique of multiculturalism as a saccharine substitute for a more radical economic equality is persuasive, and his coda offering a strikingly original interpretation of Machiavelli proves an unlikely source of consolation.

By George Eaton

Security
Stephen Amidon
Atlantic Books, 368pp, £12.99

As the title suggests, this brilliant novel roots around in the contradictions of security: the need to feel safe and protected in one’s own home and town, against the desire to live in a genuine community.

Thus Amidon’s Stoneleigh is a place of fidgeting paranoia where the rich live in gated homes and the innocent downtrodden are scrutinised by CCTV, Republican politicians, gossiping students and the local press.

With its frustrated college lecturers and dysfunctional family units, Security will draw inevitable comparisons with Franzen, Chabon, DeLillo and other post-Updike American miserabilists.

Yet Amidon is a more modest stylist and a better storyteller, nearer in spirit to Raymond Carver. In a relatively short book, he brings emphatically to life, through their realistic actions and expertly rendered dialogue, some dozen characters – including Walt Steckl, one of the best drunks in fiction.

The tragedy that forms the novel’s page-turning climax is a largely blameless one: Amidon’s characters are victims of superbly crafted circumstances.

By Martin Hemming