J.D. Wiswall has just left his small hometown to work in the glamorous offices of the Texas Department of Unemployment and Benefits. If that seems like a mouthful, don’t worry, because his new coworkers have plenty of time saving acronyms to get through the day. They include matriarchal Rita, world-weary and wine loving Deborah, silent giant Conchino and eminent slacker Brent, a wannabe rock star and poor excuse for their manager. Via a series of comic mishaps, the workers in Unit 3 might have stumbled upon a strategy to save the government millions of dollars and pursue their individual dreams—unless it all blows up in their respective faces.
PRAIRIE DOG is called “an American novel” in its author byline, but it could just as easily say “a Texan novel.” Scott Semegran clearly loves his home state, and he enjoys exploring it through literature with an almost childlike sense of wonder. For example, if you never knew that pecans were a premier Texas treat, you definitely will by the novel’s end. Semegran likes to tell rather than show, and while that does lead to a lot of words, the novel never feels slow. His prose could be a touch baroque for some, but others might find it colorful and engaging. Either way, it’s always easy to read. His use of language is always light and playful. In fact, between the vivid yet easy going language and heartfelt observations about Texas culture, the novel takes on the feel of a bounding romp through the state.
Perhaps accordingly, some of the novel’s efforts at serious contemporary critique fall flat. It’s far more comfortable broadly lampooning local government and state bureaucracy. One target who gets a particular wringing is the pompous politician Governor Bennett, whose comically unaware approach to governance is reflected in his dreadful personal habits. Semegran describes the atmosphere of Unit 3 at the Department of Unemployment and Benefits more like an awkward family gathering than a smooth workroom, and perhaps that’s the novel’s point. America is full of colorful slackers, reserved individualists, worrisome perennial parents and childlike dreamers. That can result in a country that has all the atmosphere of a fun and fascinating workplace environment.
Scott Semegran’s TO SQUEEZE A PRAIRIE DOG takes a playful and broadly comic look at local Texas government and big dreams in a book that’s both fascinating and heartfelt.
~Colin Newton for IndieReader