From Publishers Weekly:
As this peculiar but entertaining first novel begins, geography and cosmology have shifted. Natural laws work unpredictably. The U.S. government has disappeared and plundering bands of Goths and Scythians roam the Midwest. Sea serpents close the shipping lanes, and oil companies convert their tankers into slave ships that cruise the Mississippi. Clear-eyed, tough-minded teen Macy Palmer flees St. Paul with her family for the illusory safety of an island in the Gulf of Mexico. As they travel through a wavering postapocalyptic landscape, her relatives undergo upsetting personal metamorphoses. DeNiro has attracted attention for his short fiction (especially the Small Beer Press collection Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead), and this longer story’s energy ebbs a bit as Macy gets some of the oddness under control. Nonetheless, it’s an impressive debut from a promising writer.
After Minnesota is overrun by ancient Scythians and a wasp-borne plague, 16-year-old Macy and her family embark on adventures of ever-escalating weirdness as they make their way down the Mississippi toward safety that no longer exists.
DeNiro (stories: Skinny-Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, 2006) opens his debut novel in semi-comic register, as the family struggles to adjust to a weird new order involving soldier-looters in Lakers jerseys, the shuttering of all non–fast-food businesses, SUV chassis towed by mules and a scar-faced guard at the family’s riverside internment camp who sends Macy a looted necklace via her younger brother Ciaran. “I had a disfigured stalker with a sword,” she wisecracks. “This made going stag to junior prom look like a joke.” The mood grows steadily darker and grimmer. First Ciaran gets involved in intrigues among factions of the anachronistic warriors who have overrun the entire country and are battling for turf from coast to coast. The family manages to escape on a boat that limps south toward St. Louis, where Macy’s father, an astronomer, keeps insisting that a university job awaits him. Along the way both Macy and her mother are stricken with the plague; Macy’s sister runs off and is sold into indenture; they encounter elephants and giraffes, a wooden submarine and a talking dog. Eventually Ciaran is captured and sent south to Nueva Roma for trial and execution. Their father, now thriving in the former St. Louis as an astrologer, dispatches the recovered Macy to the grand delta capital to see if anything can be done to help her brother.
A fast-paced, suspenseful dystopian picaresque, part Huck Finn and part bizarro-world Swiss Family Robinson, with the latter winning out—to the benefit of those reading for plot and perhaps the disappointment of those looking for literary ambition.