by Mari Georgeson
Genre: Literary Fiction / Satire
Print Length: 364 pages
Reviewed by Warren Maxwell
Combining biting satire with deep insight into the human condition—a timely novel of ideas about tolerance and the folly of extremism
In a not-so-distant future where the United States has been divided into the Virtuous Federation and the Patriot States, Hate Hunters follows a large cast of characters struggling to live in accordance with the Virtuous Federation’s exacting moral standards.
Ambitious and multi-voiced, individual narratives and fictional texts are woven into an immersive tapestry-like world that is at once unsettling and extremely recognizable.
Alma, a tolerance counselor in the Department of Tolerance, is tasked with rehabilitating people who don’t abide by the federation’s principles. The science of “genetic whispering” has revealed that suffering is passed down in the human genome—therefore those whose ancestors suffered more, “the sainted,” are still suffering, and those whose ancestors suffered less, “the stained,” are still inflicting suffering. Despite her dedication to teaching these ideas to people like Jackie—a middle-aged white woman who has been repeatedly filmed spouting racist epithets in public—Alma finds herself running afoul of her colleagues as she tries to forge a new, more sainted identity and transcend her own white skin.
The novel slowly expands to encompass the stories of George, a successful Black business executive with a passion for making his Muslim clients feel seen; Ruby, a young medical student increasingly drawn to Islam and repulsed by Americans; and Marine, host of the popular reality TV show Hate Hunters that airs crowd-sourced footage of racists to publicly shame them. Diving into the mind of these and other characters, this book ripples with the full force and complexity of numerous perspectives as it moves from the realistic to the absurd and then back again.
Conjuring an image of humanity that cuts against the grain of traditional stories that highlight a single individual, Hate Hunters is filled with character portraits—from the grand novelistic arc of Alma to brief sketches of people on a train—that foreground the dignity and humanity of even the most minor character. Indeed, it is the interplay of ideas about humanity, communication, individuality, and diversity rather than the plot of any one character that forms the heart of this story. In different modes and contexts, each character wrestles with some form of the questions: What do we owe each other? How do I live with people who are different from me? The success and thrilling satisfaction of this story is in being able to observe how different opinions on a single idea change, develop, and coexist.
Age-old debates about justice, equality, and freedom are reignited and hurled into a contemporary context complete with identity politics, cancel culture, and people reading Robin DiAngelo. Unafraid to engage in difficult conversations, Georgeson’s characters freely argue over the ethics of changing one’s race, expound on the unique history of Islam and its relationship to violence, and reimagine what it means to be American. There are no easy answers or partisan persuasion in this novel. Even as more and more extreme events are imagined—culminating in a government sanctioned public execution in New York City for bigotry—this novel steadfastly models the humanity and tolerance implicit in good faith communication.
Impressive in ambition and philosophical scope, Hate Hunters stands out for its expert plotting, beautiful writing, and an intricately designed structure. This is an exceptional book that enrages, enlightens, and above all, affirms the humanity of every individual regardless of their beliefs.
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