BOOK REVIEW: UnAmerican Activities by James Miller

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James Miller the author of acclaimed novels such as ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Sunshine State’ brings us his next offering to gorge ourselves on until we are sick with delight, so prepare yourselves…go and put on your stretchy pants for the banquet that is laid before you in his latest novel ‘UnAmerican Activities’.

‘UnAmerican Activities’ could quite easily read as a collection of short stories. Stories that explore and unpack conspiracy theories and violence of a modern America; including such debauched and somewhat likeable characters including Porn Stars, Vampire Hunters, Meth Addicts, Fanatical Evangelists, Disgraced Academics and even Zombified Hipsters. If you’re honest with yourself I had you at Porn Stars and Vampire Hunters…right? Or was it the Zombified Hipster? Either way there is a smorgasbord of deftly created characters to meet any dietary requirement or personal preference.

As I mentioned the book could be taken as a collection of short stories but Miller has masterfully laced each story with details pertaining to the next or a previous story. It resembles a rich tapestry that has been woven to perfection, with a thread that runs through the whole ensemble, giving the novel its yellow brick road as it were and tying the stories together. Writing about the horror and the dark underbelly of America with a verve that the great Stephen King could sit back and admire.

The voices of our quite often deranged and somewhat likeable narrators is the key to this quite awesome book. The narrators have their own identities and their own flaws causing the reader to be taken along for the ride. I would say Millers delectable ride (that being ‘UnAmerican Activities’) is possibly what it would be like to be sitting in the back seat of Raoul Duke and his attorney Dr. Gonzo’s convertible as they rip across the Mojave Desert in their quest to reach Las Vegas…you just don’t know what is going to happen next. Spoiler Warning – there are no bats!

‘Living with a zombie was no big deal. Brock didn’t seem to notice and Ben was docile enough, most of the time. He’d have these lucid periods when he seemed almost entirely normal, broken with occasional fits of terrible, unearthly screaming. These could, I admit, be distressing until I discovered that putting a scarf or a small towel over his face – especially over the eyes – caused him to immediately cease and slump. I think you can do a similar trick with a parrot or other birds’. – extract from ‘Exploding Zombie Cock’

It’s not often that I throw around the words arrestingly brilliant, a must read, one of the best books I’ve read in the last year and I read a lot of books this year. But I can’t help but do that with Miller’s ‘UnAmerican Activities’ – it’s a book that keeps on giving long after the final pages are turned and showcases Miller as a writer who is at the top of his game and coming into his prime.

The book is deliciously put together, with a cover that harks back to the pulp fiction days of old, giving the words that are inside the perfect caveat for what’s waiting for the reader.

Published by Dodo Ink, I would regard it as the jewel in their crown. A book that firmly brings the Dodo back from extinction and cements Dodo Ink as an independent publisher to watch now and long into the future – an impressive and bold choice of fiction to publish, if I had a hat I would tip it to all involved in this fundamentally important piece of fiction.

‘UnAmerican Activities’ should be winning awards for its unapologetic approach. Its tightly woven and varying plots that are masterfully executed with Millers exquisite prose that at times reminded me of the great Hunter S Thompson.

Notice I said should be winning awards and it’s my hope that it does, but we all know what a popularity contest these awards are (often courting the big publishers and neglecting the independent ones) – It’s strong enough in my opinion to have been included with some of the books that have been nominated and won major awards this year.

‘UnAmerican Activities’ is bold, daring and downright brilliant. I can’t wait to see what Miller comes up with next.

James Miller


James Miller is a novelist and academic. He was born in London in 1976 and educated at Oxford University, University College London and King’s College London. He was Time Out magazine’s ‘Rising Literary Star’ of 2008. His debut novel, LOST BOYS, a disturbing re-imagining of ‘Peter Pan’ for the War on Terror was published to great critical acclaim and controversy in the UK in 2008. His second novel, SUNSHINE STATE, a re-working of ‘Heart of Darkness’ for an age of economic collapse, Third World revolution and global warming was published in 2010. James Miller has a PhD on African-American literature and Civil Rights. He is senior lecturer in English literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University and is Course Director for the Creative Writing MFA. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications and his journalism in papers including The Times and Der Taggesspiegel. He has spoken at many cultural events in the UK and abroad, including the Edinburgh Book Festival, Wilderness and Latitide Festival, in Germany on ZDF’s ‘aspekte’ TV programme and Berlin’s Hebbel-Am-Ufer theatre, the Tottenham/ Palestine literature festival and at the Athens Megaron for the British Council.

UnAmerican Activities was published by Dodo Ink
on the 7th November 2017
You can purchase a copy of UnAmerican Activities from FoylesWaterstones, or The Book Depository:

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