On the Page: Tom Drury and ‘The New Digital Age’


Tom Drury

(Grove Press, 208 pp., $25)

Early in Pacific, the sequel to Tom Drury’s brilliantly deadpan 1994 novel The End of Vandalism, a character finally makes it out of Stone City, the Midwestern hamlet that serves as the backdrop for both books. On a bus ride through present-day Los Angeles, the character observes (or is observed observing): “Palm trees listed south, leaves fluttering in the wind. The Chateau Marmont rose above trees. He knew it was important but not why.”

Poetic, clever and concise, those three sentences could be used to teach Drury-ese: a language that exists mostly in dialogue and description, a dry bed of humor built on a sturdy rhythm and benevolently wry observation.

Vandalism was held together by surrealist threads—the strange disappearance of both fish and giant farm machinery—and these tangents reappear in Mr. Drury’s latest attempt to capture the magic of Anytown, USA. In the former novel, they comprised the ethereal mysteries of life in the Midwest, where they were considered with mild surprise, if considered at all.

In Pacific, however, the encounters are hostile; monsters battering at the gates rather than ghosts coming in the night. There is a high-
octane car chase between the police and a Mustang ending in a spectacular crash straight out of Michael Bay, a high school group called The New Luddites fighting a losing battle to wrest back reality from the Internet, and an insane female knight with a sword who seems to have accidentally wandered in from Game of Thrones (looking for a Jack Snow, no less).

Adding to this ADD-addled frenzy, the already short story toggles back and forth between Los Angeles and Stone City, with little tethering the competing narratives together. If Vandalism provided a world for readers to slow down and catch their breath, Pacific is determined to knock it out of them. —Drew Grant

The New Digital AgeThe New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business

Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen

(Knopf, 336 pp., $26.95)

The New Digital Age is not a particularly modest book. The result of a collaboration between Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, and Jared Cohen, a former State Department staffer and current director of the Google Ideas think tank, it’s a thorough book that provides an admirable overview of current disruptive trends in technology while attempting to predict how they’ll reshape the relationships between states and citizens.

Mr. Schmidt’s influence means the authors were able to get Julian Assange to chat about WikiLeaks and Henry Kissinger to speculate on what happens to opposition movements in the hyper-fast digital age. (His take: “It is hard to imagine de Gaulles and Churchills appealing in the world of Facebook.” Good job, Zuck.) This book is likely to pop up on a lot of undergraduate syllabi.

That said, laymen are likely to find it a bit of a slog (another 35 pages on government censorship techniques?), while techies will flip through familiar anecdotes. Messrs. Schmidt and Cohen also fall into the old trap of thinking everything’s a nail when you’re holding a hammer, speculating at one point that Hamas might be able to shore up its position by building apps for cheap smartphones.

It’s when The New Digital Age takes off on flights of whiz-bang futurist fantasy that the book becomes entertaining. Yes—tell me more about the robot that will clean my kitchen and the driverless car that will ferry me to work. Whether these ideas will age well is another question. —Kelly Faircloth

On the Page: Tom Drury and ‘The New Digital Age’