James R. Frakes
If Nick Carraway was repulsed by the foul dust that floated in the wake of Gatsby's dreams, he'd be really nauseated by Peter Maas' latest version of the orgiastic future [in Made in America,] to which our republic has been summoned by that twinkling green light. In 1974, the new world of this novel has become a burned-out wasteland: The South Bronx resembles a no-man's-land in South Vietnam; the Inwood section of Manhattan has acquired the siege mentality of Johannesburg. Whores crouch in 42nd Street doorways "like bears on a riverbank during a salmon run." Every ethnic group hates and fears every other.
Bleak. But all hope is not abandoned—America is still the land of opportunity, where the system says to look out for yourself. And Richie Flynn, at 33, still believes in the Fourth of July speeches….
Richie Flynn is not a character the reader roots for; neither is he very interesting—self-pitying, whining, fawning, out of his league, a small-time man-on-the-make. The day-care deal is only the most visible of a million workaday scams: phony income-tax rebates, land-development frauds, leaky union funds, prosecution of organized crime as the springboard to a political career. And—look around!—everybody's doing it, not just Richard M. Nixon, who hovers in the background of this sprawling novel like Banquo's ghost. A warden can be bribed to provide private prison rooms with icebox, hot plate, television and phone. An old bewhiskered flowerwoman resells discarded roses, for which she has already triply overcharged. Sister Patricia "adjusts" Richie's high-school records so that he can meet the admission standards of Marquette University….
As was evident from his Serpico, The Valachi Papers and King of the Gypsies, Peter Maas has a sensitive eye and nose for the unsavory underside of urban development. The salesmen in a discount television store are equipped with earplugs that look like hearing aids; a sign reading "We Hire the Handicapped" is placed in the window, and the price tags are removed from the TV sets. When the owner shouts a price, the salesmen always quote a figure that is $100 less. "Within a week's time the store was cleaned out." An experienced con man suggests that Nixon hadn't destroyed the damning White House tapes because he intended to use them to negotiate for his memoirs and then to donate edited portions of them to some university for a huge tax write-off….
The book … sags...
(The entire section is 597 words.)