Albert Collins, struggling entomology professor with an accomplished wife and two children, lives a quiet life in Brooklyn until his inexplicably powerful onscreen presence brings him to the attention of one of Hollywood’s elite celebrity makers, Jack Ruby. Memphis Smith, a smartly dressed, hired thug from Queens, working for a powerful gangster known only as Frank, discovers a musical gift in an unlikely location. Both Albert and Memphis, originally from Canada, are sucked into the machinery of cultural immortality by agents of American success: Jack Ruby and music impresario, Marcellus Moses. Bright futures for Albert and Memphis fly free of their grasp; their lives uncontrollably and utterly transformed.
Authors Jacqueline Ruby’s and Marcellus Moses’ storytelling is masterful. Plot, character, settings, extended metaphors and scenes are spun together flawlessly. The plot is unpredictable and well told; unexpected events unfold naturally from the disposition of the social sphere and character inclination. From the upstate prison Dannemora, to fancy offices with their de rigueur black leather couches, the settings are well-drawn. The larger conceits: French surrealist André Breton’s mysterious Nadja, “Canadian” as a meaningful descriptor, and spider mating habits, echo through the chapters. Compelling scenes, at concerts, and at an estate on the Hudson, breathe on their own, forward the plot, and support a theme marked by an incisive vision of how celebrity is shaped and bred into America’s cultural bones.
The character work in this novel is also commanding. The choices Memphis and Albert make are so plausible they validate the unlikeliest events. Secondary characters – Adolph the sadistic head of the local chapter of the Aryan Nations; Alice Dempsey, who’s epithet “the collector” belies her warmth; even crime boss Frank, who appears in only one small scene in uptown Manhattan – are drawn deftly, their personalities memorable, distinctive and believable.
Like some of the best American social satire, William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities,” or Mark Twain’s Cannibalism in the Cars, this engaging novel carries gems of well-articulated perception. Male identity, the nature of celebrity, and the cynical manipulation of American groupthink are carefully observed. All the while, the astringent taste of our society seen sharply goes down quick and easy in a story too satisfying to put down.
THE CODE is a well-crafted, intelligent and timely social satire about America’s ability to elevate, transform and digest the celebrity heroes it creates and is well worth a read.
~Ellen Graham for IndieReader