Screenwriter Chris Hauty successfully jumps the tracks and lands his first novel – which is really a glorified screenplay disguised with extra narrative. Hey, you write what you know.
Deep State is an average political thriller that will no doubt make for an above-average Netflix film.
The book, which has had a surprisingly great word-of-mouth marketing campaign, narrates an assassination attempt on President Richard Monroe. The president, in this fantasy, make-believe world, is a populist, controversial, and divisive figure trying to lead an increasingly polarized Washington, DC. See, pure sci-fi. Hayley Chill (a fantastic Chander-esque homage if there ever was one) is a White House intern who accidentally becomes aware of the assassination plot and, using her infantry background and skills as an accomplished boxer, must warn the POTUS while navigating minefields of mistrust. Hilarity ensues.
Deep State orchestrates over-played beats but Hauty swings together a fast story and, more importantly, a fun character with Chill. From her origins in Appalachia West Virginia through her time in the Army, Chill has a strong moral center and a stronger left hook. You want her to succeed. And of course she does. As strong and as successful a character Chill becomes, the story surrounding her is as fresh as an evening-commute Dunkin’ Boston Crème. For a political thriller set in a “polarized world,” the reader is never immersed. Monroe might be controversial, but rarely is that shown. The nation seems to despise the man, yet proof is never truly drawn. Missing is that smooth Le Carré-style diplomatic backstabbing where razor-sharp words solicit deadly consequence. Instead, base, in-your-face confrontations rage on as if this was CBS prime time. No world building; only face value acceptance. Deep State feints too often; not enough jabbing.
Hauty knows when to play it light by offering the occasional zinger, such as naming the Russian Premier Malkin (never took Hauty as a Penguins fan), and once comparing Hayley to the X-Men, Rogue. Hauty then goes deep and gives insight to secondary and tertiary characters’ ultimate resolutions. A fast forward glimpse into that person’s future, which plays out convincingly in a style similar to Tom Tykwer’s film Run Lola Run. In that movie, the viewer gets a stuttered look at minor characters’ often dreary future after encountering the title character. Hauty plays this card decisively and cleverly, making this deep cut his best.
Deep State is not without its own guilty pleasure. The ending, to be deliberately obtuse, concludes on a fun reveal that although might not be Keyser Soze level in magnitude, certain resets the axis of the book. Questions are answered. Explanations abound. And the mass-paperback triteness is elevated to a cinematic finale worthy of a celebratory tub of popcorn.
Look for Deep State. Starring Brie Larson. Coming soon. Only on Netflix. Maybe. Probably.
Thanks to NetGalley and Atria/Emily Bestler for the ARC. I continue to applaud Atria’s work and remain a fan.