The Regional Office Is Under Attack!
This adventure tale pulls elements from many corners of pop culture, but Manuel Gonzales' writing chops make it wholly his own
Reviewed by Adrienne Martini, Fri., Dec. 23, 2016
Given all of the disparate elements that UT alum/former Austin Bat Cave director Manuel Gonzales pulls from for The Regional Office Is Under Attack! and how they seem to be held together solely with spit and good intentions, this story should fly apart as its narrative momentum builds. Instead, it soars. Parts read like the best Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode ever. Teenage girls are trained to take on (and take out) the evil that bubbles into our world. There's a Die Hard-y element when one of the girls is a lone warrior uniquely positioned to save the titular Regional Office. There's a subplot involving superpowers, prophecies, and oracles that could happily live in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. end of the Marvel universe.
As in his collection The Miniature Wife and Other Stories, Gonzales' writing chops keep this from becoming merely a pastiche of pop-culture references. He fluidly shifts among two viewpoint characters, a series of "nonfiction" scholarly treatises about the Regional Office itself, and a second-person chapter that proves that every rule about never, ever writing in the second person has an exception. Moments have a high-toned literary gloss that channels George Saunders or a less vocabularily intense David Foster Wallace while others could be lifted straight from old-school Batman TV episodes, with their "POWs" and "BAMs." And yet, just like with the story itself, while you can pick apart where different bits have come from, the end result is wholly Gonzales'.
With all of this, it would be hard to imagine how Gonzales will stick the landing and tie it all together. He does, however, and adds a flourish that will tick off the Soviet judge while delighting those readers who admire extravagant rule flouting and effective creative expression.
The Regional Office Is Under Attack!by Manuel Gonzales
Riverhead Books, 416 pp., $28