Overthrow is legitimately great psychological fiction. Crain excels at describing, with precision and economy, intimacy’s dance of knowledge, ignorance, and pretense.

Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe

Overthrow by Caleb Crain

A novel about the fate of candor, good will, and the utopian spirit in a world where technology and surveillance are weaponizing human relationships

One autumn night, as a grad student named Matthew is walking home from the subway, a handsome skateboarder catches his eye. Leif, a poet as well as a skater, invites Matthew to take part in an experiment with tarot cards. It’s easier to know what’s in other people’s minds than most people realize, Leif and his friends claim. Do they believe in telepathy? Can they actually do it? Instead of writing his dissertation, Matthew soon finds himself falling for Leif and entangled with his friends, who are as idealistic as the Occupy encampment they like to visit.

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A 19th-century social novel for the 21st-century surveillance state. Frequently alluding to Henry James’s “The Princess Casamassima,” another story of young radicals, Crain subjects his characters to quandaries that test their precariously entwined identities. The novel almost dares readers to object to its inwardness — “It’s like there’s a new sumptuary law against introspection,” one of the four complains — but its tender, psychologically precise prose feels like a bulwark against the exposure it takes for a subject.

Julian Lucas, New York Times Book Review

Necessary Errors was rigorously naturalistic and finely polished. Overthrow is playfully fantastical—Crain frequently invokes Shakespearean romance—and, if not plot-driven, at least plot-friendly. Henry James is still the tutelary spirit; but it’s the James of The Princess Casamassima (alluded to on several occasions) and The Sacred Fount—the James interested in radical politics and unashamed of messing around with the supernatural. Overthrow, in other words, does what a second novel should do: It risks something.

Anthony Domestico, The Boston Globe

The novel is virtuosic in mining beauty and pathos from the texture of daily life; reading Crain’s prose can feel like seeing a world made hyper-real, crisper and more intense, as through some phenomenological Instagram filter.

Garth Greenwell, the New Yorker

No one can deny that Henry James is still a significant force in fiction. . . . Caleb Crain’s Jamesian story of New York in late 2011, the autumn of Occupy and its aftermath, is among the most cunning, most subtle examples I know. The influence is fully conscious, fully diffused, and frequently witty. . . . It’s a novel that keeps faith in even the unlikeliest candidates for where redemption might next come.

Nicholas Dames, Public Books

It’s a Philip K. Dick plot as experienced by Henry James characters.

Phil Christman, Plough

Crain is a true craftsman. . . . The unflagging originality of the writing proves sustaining.

Tim Pfaff, Bay Area Reporter

What is really in question are the very conditions of human individuality and feeling that gave birth to the novel itself.

Jason Farago, New York Review of Books

Against the plot concerning our main characters lies a much more sinister counter-plot; against each attempt at activist hacking, a reassertion of state-mandated counter-hacking. The central paradox of reading Crain’s novel is that even as we learn more, these revelations often return us to just how little it is we know at all. . . . It is, at heart, a novel that repeatedly asks: What makes a good reader?

Jane Hu, Bookforum

Swapping human connection for an algorithm of convenience is a lousy bargain, Crain argues. His novel is a sensitive, provocative plea to recognize what gets lost in the exchange.

Mark Athitakis, Washington Post

A carefully unsentimental book.

Annalisa Quinn, NPR

In a time when it’s said that social media algorithms can predict your decisions more accurately than your intimates, Caleb Crain might provide the sort of narrative we need.

Lincoln Michel, Book Post

Advance praise:

What a brilliant, terrifying, and entertaining book Caleb Crain has written! It is part subtle novel of contemporary manners, part intellectual legal thriller, and part prophetic dystopia: Henry James meets Bonfire of the Vanities against the backdrop of the Occupy movement and the growing surveillance power of Leviathan. It’s a novel to be read now and reread years from now—a tour de force.

—Keith Gessen, author of A Terrible Country

Caleb Crain’s fiction is a complete pleasure: emotionally generous, stylish, and expansive, laced with the sly, bright humor of quiet observation. Through the prism of the “Working Group for the Refinement of the Perception of Feelings”—an idealistic collective of young friends, with shifting personal connections, perspectives, and commitments—Overthrow illuminates contemporary crises of politics and technology, helping make sense of pervasive surveillance and political optimism by turning the abstract intimate. A sturdy reminder of all the ways literature, too, can serve as a form of political optimism.

—Anna Wiener, author of Uncanny Valley

This astounding, moving novel brought back memories of Occupy Wall Street while transporting me to a parallel universe, one where emotional empathy and technological surveillance become mysteriously entangled. A small group of friends, who aim to cultivate a heightened state of sensitivity, must navigate a perilous legal system and face down sinister corporate interests, without betraying one another or their beliefs. Both poetic and gripping, realistic and otherworldly, Overthow engages heady themes—the limits of idealism, the nature of state power—in an incredibly gripping narrative that never loses heart or hope.

—Astra Taylor, director of What Is Democracy? and Examined Life

There’s an excerpt in the August 2019 issue of Harper’s magazine. Excerpt from 'Overthrow' by Caleb Crain in August 2019 Harper's


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