4.5 out of 5 stars
Cut to the Chase: American Neolithic is a dystopian science-fiction novel full of political satire and dark humor. In a world where the Homeland Police has unlimited legal jurisdiction over all national security and creationism is widely promoted by the government, Blingbling, a present-day Neanderthal who’s a professional musician, is charged for the murder of fellow hip-hop artist Galileo. Raleigh, Blingbling’s criminal defense lawyer, faces a massive problem when he realizes Blingbling is not entirely human. Terence Hawkins’s prose has a sharp wit and themes of trust and loyalty all combined in an eccentric, unique story that is part thriller, part courtroom drama.
When Raleigh was first introduced to his client Blingbling, who had no Homeland passport or Social Security number, he was convinced that he was a gypsy. However, when his former Yale roommate shows DNA results that indicate his strangely-shaped body was not a result of decades of inbreeding but rather because of his genotype, Raleigh starts to worry. He knows that the Homeland Police will instantly turn their attention to this case once there forensic scientists reach the same result.
At the same time, readers are introduced to BlingBling’s and his ancestors’ histories through his point of view. Early Neanderthals were almost hunted to extinction until they were forced into the deepest part of the forest they lived in. Eventually, they migrated to the east coast of America, working as coal miners sometime during the seventeenth century until a mining accident finally forced the remaining Neanderthals to retreat to a different place. Fast-forward to present day, it is revealed to readers that Blingbling learned to read through abandoned magazines and children’s books found in the dumpster. As the only literate Neanderthal, Blingbling’s grandmother sends him on a mission to find a job and Blingbling finally lands a cleaning job, eventually becoming a hip-hop artist after attracting a crowd while dancing in the hair salon. While this might sound unlikely, it’s written in a way that’s well-paced and fairly convincing.
As Blingbling’s genetic history becomes more public, Raleigh is introduced to Blingbling’s family, a group of Neanderthals that are living in an abandoned building called the “Nest.” Raleigh decides to go public with this information, is bombarded by the press, all while trying to maintain his on-and-off relationship with a mysterious young Iranian girl. These are interesting, thoroughly developed characters with well thought-through back stories.
Hawkins’s characters are flawed by realistic. Raleigh is a middle-aged Yale alumnus who’s also an alcoholic, chainsmoker who struggles with self-doubt. Blingbling, though believed to be retarded, is actually well versed in philosophy and science. His thoughts are portrayed as much more articulate and organized than Raleigh’s, even though he is not as educated.
The book is well-written, interestingly conceived, and the ending has some nice unexpected twists. Definitely a worthwhile read.
Comparison to Other Authors/Books:
It’s difficult to know what to compare American Neolithic to. Does it have a lot of legal knowledge and courtroom drama? Yes, of course. But unlike Grisham’s novels, which are tightly wound around real, or potentially real, cases with sometimes unlikable protagonists, Hawkins has created a fantasy world full of neanderthals and hyperbolic-security measures. Is it paced well? Yes, not quite to the level of Crichton’s Sphere, for example, but there are psychological aspects that were quite interesting and I was engaged throughout.