Review: Astroturf by Matthew Sperling

9781787471153Hilarious, subversive, morally dubious, and incredibly compelling, Astroturf is a brilliant novel by a major new talent.

Meet Ned. He’s 30-years-old, and is at a low-point in life. His girlfriend’s left him, he’s stuck in a monotonous job, and he’s all but forsaken any belief he’ll one day be a home owner, destined to remain forever in his decrepit bedsit. If the world’s population is equally balanced between winners and losers, he’s at the wrong end of that scale. So it doesn’t take much for an acquaintance, Darus — picture the apex of a gym junkie; broad shoulders, bulging biceps, impossibly muscled — to entice Ned to try using steroids to bulk up his frame.

Darus’ pitch is simple: Ned is a “beta male,” which isn’t wholly his fault, it’s genetics; which can’t be changed, but can be boosted. Steroids, alongside an intense workout regime and proper diet; it’s not impossible that Ned could eventually become an “alpha.” And Darus is adamant: Ned’s whole life would be revitalised. Every facet of it, amplified for the the better. He leaves Ned with the link to an online forum at Roidsweb.com; tells Ned to check it out, read into steroid abuse, forget everything he thought he knew, all the lies that’re spun. It’s time to unlock and embrace his potential.

Ned is delighted by the result. The physical changes garner appreciative looks from bystanders; he feels better about himself, more confident, his mind clear of the depressing fog that had threatened to consume him. But Ned’s not a gym junkie; he’s not really got the gusto for bulking up and getting ripped; he’s happy enough being sheathed in lean muscle. It’s Roidsweb’s online community that he truly latches onto; which sparks an illicit business idea, which promises big money very quickly, and revolves around the concept of astroturfing and a brazen, hilarious use of sock-pockets, whose interactions make for some of the book’s best moments.

Astroturf is about a man who is not unlike the rest of us: a swirling mass of contradictions, of good intentions and less good actions. Sperling’s dead-on observations about masculinity online and in real life, coupled with his murderous wit, makes it a delight.

ISBN: 9781787471153
Number Of Pages: 208
Available: 23rd August 2018
Publisher: Quercus Publishing Plc
Country of Publication: GB

 

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