How to Defend Democracy from Itself: On Steve Erickson’s “American Stutter, 2019–2021”

Charles Taylor in the Los Angeles Review of Books: American Stutter, 20192021, novelist Steve Erickson’s journal of our ongoing plague year — the everything-at-once-all-the-time mash-up of election, pandemic, and still-unresolved attempted coup — springs from a clarifying rage that not only scorns right-wing perfidy but also looks askance at liberal good intentions (and their too-often ether-brained descendants, progressive good intentions). In Erickson’s view, liberal humanism is just not up to the job of preventing America from becoming a democracy in name only. His voice in this book is simultaneously that of a soldier exhorting his fellow combatants to get off their asses and rush with him into enemy fire, and of a disillusioned man wiping the dirt off his hands as he walks away from the grave of American democracy. It is hopeful and fierce and already grieving.

The national apocalypse that, over the course of Erickson’s 10 novels, has always fluttered close enough for us to feel the beating of its wings, has here at last taken shape. In Erickson’s Shadowbahn (2016), huge sections of America have seceded and now call themselves Disunion. In American Stutter, that’s happened long before we come to the event that ends the book — a cohort of white supremacists, conspiracy theorists, and other assorted thugs and yahoos, cheered on by a defeated president and aided by Republican congressmen, storming the Capitol to capture and possibly kill the vice president, the speaker of the House, and any other presumed turncoat they could lay their hands on, with the goal of overturning a presidential election. January 6 was, Erickson recognizes, the inevitable acting out of something that had already happened: More here.