Jennifer Senior, one of the daily book reviewers on staff at the New York Times finally reviews Bill McKibben's debut cli-fi lite novel RADIO FREE VERMONT 30 days after publication on November 7 after dozens of small papers reviewed the book will 5 stars and thumbs up -- this way with a headline reading ''A Polite Drive for Secession in ‘Radio Free Vermont’''
The dedication page of the novel reads "For Spunky Knowsalot" who is, according to sources the New York York Times did not check with for confirmation, is none other than Bill's writer wife Sue Halpern, like McKibben, a longtime transplanted Vermonter, she from New York, he from Boston.
EXCERPT from the paywalled review, with slight editorial annotations and edits here by this blogger for amplification and clarification:
".....Like Mailer and Breslin, the central character of Vern Barclay, the old-school radio host and "forever young" hero of Bill McKibben’s ''cli-fi lite'' debut novel “Radio Free Vermont,” doesn’t truly believe he’ll have any success with the secessionist movement he leads. He’s an accidental renegade, a guy who fell backward into the revolution business while reporting his final story.
That was that. A movement for Vermont’s independence was born.
In his public appearances, McKibben, a Vermonter and one of the best-known environmentalists of our age, can be an extremely droll and appealing Cassandra.
But there was little in his many previous books to suggest he can pull off a novel-length satire. He’s a serious man.
(To Bill Maher, who complained that McKibben wasn’t giving him enough hopeful news, the author said: “This is your fault. You asked someone on whose most famous book was called ‘The End of Nature,’ O.K.?”)
Yet “Radio Free Vermont” is a charming bit of artisanal resistance lit. It’s a bit rough, with the occasional nailhead poking up too high. (Perry’s upspeak? It gets to be, um, a bit much?) But what’s surprising is how well-crafted the book is overall; how unhokey its folksiness feels, and how true its observations ring.
The finest running joke in “Radio Free Vermont” — not least for being so plausible — is that Barclay and his supporters are a supremely pleasant group of separatists. When he disrupts the canned music at Starbucks to point out that Vermont has plenty of locally owned coffee shops, he signs off with, “Remember: small is kind of nice.” When his pal Sylvia, the woman who provides him shelter in her farmhouse, hijacks a Coors truck — who needs Big Beer in a state with Hill Farmstead and Heady Topper? — she hands the driver a picnic lunch and apologizes for including only one Long Trail Coffee Stout. “We’re serious about DUI in this state,” she says, “but I think you’ll find it filling.”
Walmart’s management assumed Barclay was responsible for the stunt. He wasn’t. It was the handiwork of a 19-year-old hacker and social activist named Perry, a kid Barclay had never met before. It didn’t matter; he and Perry were now in the soup together. The two fled, took refuge in an old farmhouse and began a series of untraceable podcasts. “Underground, underfoot and underpowered” became its tagline, with every broadcast sponsored by a different Vermont-made craft beer. Vermont has almost as many microbreweries making craft beer as it does pet cats.
That was that. A movement for Vermont’s independence was born.
.....“Radio Free Vermont” is a charming bit of artisanal resistance lit. It’s a bit rough, with the occasional nailhead poking up too high. (Perry’s upspeak? It gets to be, um, a bit much?) But what’s surprising is how well-crafted the book is overall; how unhokey its folksiness feels, and how true its observations ring.
Lest you think this is just the latest blue-state-flavored ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s, remember: Vermonters love their guns.
The ability to shoot them — while skiing — figures prominently in the plot. Barclay is a former coach of high school biathletes. One of his former students, a woman named Trance, won a gold medal in the Olympics, was a sharpshooter in Iraq and ultimately becomes a heroine of the Vermont independence movement.
“Radio Free Vermont” is more than “A Fable of Resistance,” as its subtitle says.
It’s a love letter to the modest, treed-in landscape of Vermont, which Barclay wouldn’t trade for all the grandeur of Montana.
It’s a dirge for the intense cold, which Barclay sorely misses — why is the world now brown in January, rather than white? (“It made him feel old,” McKibben writes, “as if he’d outlived the very climate of his life.”)
It is an elegy for a slower, saner Vermont — “the world’s rush was doing it in” — and dependable Yankee virtues, like neighborliness and self-reliance and financial prudence.
The book also helps contextualize Bernie Sanders’s anti-establishment crankiness. Barclay likes to remind his listeners that Vermont was once its own republic.
Throughout the story, the secessionist movement gains in popularity. Bumper stickers start appearing on cars: “Barclay for Governor.” “Barclay for Prime Minister.”
Post offices start flying a new Free Vermont flag designed by Barclay’s mother. (The New York Times in the novel even runs a Timesy feature story under the headline, “In Quaint Green Mountain Hamlets, a Push For Independence.” Gotta admit that’s pretty good. Yes, Jen, very good!) Barclay increasingly devotes his podcasts to questions of feasibility were a divorce to take place: Can Vermonters defend themselves with guns? How would its citizens collect on their Social Security?
McKibben never suggests he truly believes secession is the solution in times of political turmoil.
If anything, it’s the opposite; Barclay eventually worries he’s asking people “to do something a little dangerous and more than a little weird.”
What he’s proposing is merely a thought experiment, daring the reader to ponder the virtues of smallness in an age of military and corporate gigantism. In his acknowledgments, he notes that Vermont has already had one “minor-league attempt” at a secession movement, about a decade ago, that failed, spectacularly.
The dedication page of the novel itself reads "For Spunky Knowsalot" who is, according to sources the New York York Times did not check with for confirmation, is none other than Bill's writer wife Sue Halpern, like McKibben, a longtime transplanted Vermonter, she from New York, he from Boston.
But if non-Vermonters need refuge in the months or years ahead of the evil undemocratic Hitlerian Trump administration, Bill adds in his afterword: “you’re all welcome to come to the Green Mountain State. We’ll teach you to drive dirt roads in mud season.”