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Big Ifby Mark Costello
Vi Asplund, a Secret Service agent, returns to her childhood home to protect the vice president as he campaigns in the New Hampshire primary. Jens, her brother, still lives in Portsmouth, writing code for a wildly successful computer game. If Mark Costello's second novel makes such exotic vocations seem oddly familiar, it's because his characters deal with conflicts common to us all ? conflicts about options and probabilities, risk and security.
A 2002 National Book Award finalist, Big If is especially timely in these days of heightened security and suspicion. But readers expecting a traditional thriller ? a reasonable enough assumption, given the spotlight on federal agents and the fact that Costello's first book, Bag Men, was a police procedural ? won't find the standard hooks and shoot-outs here. Instead, Big If stakes its roots in recognizable, workaday concerns.
The author explains, "A lot of people in the book are struggling with this issue of Is what I'm doing worthwhile? Have I sold out? Am I just drifting down the stream of life or am I doing something that matters? This is the basic question we ask about our work."
Adrienne Miller noted in her Esquire review, "The pacing here is superb, and the novel unfolds with kind of jittery anticipation, even if nothing much, well, happens."
Nothing is supposed to happen, not if these Secret Service agents are doing their job. Big If is often funny, satirizing the heady days of technology IPOs or America's electoral process, and as Miller aptly notes, the story rushes forward from the start. Nothing much happens, yet always the threat lingers that something ? something bad, perhaps even tragic ? will happen, so bit by bit, the book accrues a ceaseless, mounting tension: At any moment, a good day's work can go straight to hell.
Synopses & Reviews
The Secret Service agents guarding the vice president steel their nerves to a multitude of dangers every day. When he runs for the top spot on the Democratic ticket, however, their personal lives may just be the biggest obstacle to keeping him safe.
Wry, muscular Vi Asplund is the daughter of an atheist insurance adjuster who took the young Vi and her brother, Jens, to the grisly accident scenes he covered. This tolerance for the macabre follows Vi into her career as an agent, and into Jens's development as the software designer for a gorey video game. Chief-of-detail Gretchen Williams fights to keep the team in order, while Agent Tashmo, a veteran presidential guard, reflects on the glory days of the Reagan administration.
As the primary approaches, these intense men and women balance their own lives with that of the vice president. An astounding novel of survival and absurdity, Big If casts a sharp eye on America today.
"A thrilling corrective to fiction's phobia when it comes to the subject of gainful employment, so lamenters take note (unless you'd prefer to go on complaining, in which case, by all means, horseman, ride on!) ... Big If takes in the lives of an assortment of characters, most of whom are part of a team of Secret Service agents assigned to protect an unnamed vice president campaigning in a presidential primary in the late '90s (any similarities to Al Gore seem to be purely incidental)." Laura Miller, Salon.com (read the entire Salon.com review)
About the Author
Mark Costello worked as a federal prosecutor for five years before writing Bag Men, his first novel, under the name John Flood. He lives in New York.
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