Liberation: a magical road-novel about America in collapse, Bradbury meets Kerouac

Brian Francis Slattery's novel Liberation is a magical, riveting poetic story of a post-economic America where the dollar has vanished and slavery has sprung up in the resulting economic chaos. It concerns the adventures of the Slick Six, a gang of fun-loving super-criminals whose unbeatable fighter, Marco, is at sea on a prison-ship when the nation falters. The guards on the ship kill the warden, begin to trade prisoners to slavers for food and fuel, and Marco kills them all, sets the ship free, sails the world, and comes back to what's left of America.

America has dissolved. New York is now the barony of The Aardvark, the crimelord who put Marco away in the first place, as punishment for the Slick Six's incursions against his territories. The Aardvark presides over the capitalization and enforcement of slave-farms across America, and he hunts all of the Slick Six with a mindless, unwavering determination to wreak perfect vengeance.

Marco resolves to find and reunite the Slick Six and to use them as a spearhead in a war on the institution of slavery and on The Aardvark, who reaps a fortune from it. And therein begins the tale, a road-novel that tears back and forth across America, told from the point of view of The Vibe, or fate, which guides the hands of all the dozens of remarkable characters in the story.

Slattery's prose style is complex, poetic, visionary and reeling, a cross between Kerouac and Bradbury, salted with Steinbeck. His people are all magic — a tribe of stoners called the Americoids, a resurgent Sioux nation led by a visionary war-chief, a hive-like murderous circus, a free-state in Asheville presided over by an American Brahmin-turned-mayor, the prisoners on the liberated ship.

In Marco, we meet one of the great tortured heroes of fiction: an unstoppable badass who is haunted by his past as a child-soldier and who hunts now for peace with his past and a future he can be proud of. There is action and dashing in the story and true love and music and cooking and acrobatics and commerce and economics and crime and nobility. It's a heady stew, a road novel shot through with mysticism and a love of freedom that soars over the pages.

In case it's not clear, I loved this book. I can't wait to read more (I've just ordered Spaceman Blues, Slattery's first novel). This is a book to fall in love with.