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Plastic

A Novel

Author Scott Guild On Tour
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On sale Feb 13, 2024 | 10 Hours and 5 Minutes | 978-0-593-79591-0
For fans of Interior Chinatown and American War, a surreal, hilarious, and sneakily profound debut novel that casts our current climate of gun violence and environmental destruction in a surprising new mold.

"A stunningly brilliant novel. One of those books that will follow you around, into your dreams and your daily life. You have never read anything like it."Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Hero of This Book


Erin is a plastic girl living in a plastic world. Every day she eats a breakfast of boiled chicken, then conveys her articulated body to Tablet Town, where she sells other figurines Smartbodies: wearable tech that allows full, physical immersion in a virtual world, a refuge from real life’s brutal wars, oppressive governmental monitoring, and omnipresent eco-terrorist insurgency. If you cut her, she will not bleed—but she and her fellow figurines can still be cracked or blown apart by gunfire or bombs, or crumble away from nuclear fallout. Erin, who's lost her father, sister, and the love of her life, certainly knows plenty about death.
      An attack at her place of work brings Erin another too-intimate experience, but it also brings her Jacob: a blind figurine whom she comforts in the aftermath, and with whom she feels an almost instant connection. For the first time in years, Erin begins to experience hope—hope that until now she's only gleaned from watching her favorite TV show, the surrealist retro sitcom “Nuclear Family.” Exploring the wild wonders of the virtual reality landscape together, it seems that possibly, slowly, Erin and Jacob may have a chance at healing from their trauma. But then secrets from Erin's family's past begin to invade her carefully constructed reality, and cracks in the facade she's constructed around her life threaten to reveal everything vulnerable beneath.
     Both a crypto-comedic dystopian fantasy and a deadly serious dissection of our own farcical pre-apocalypse, Scott Guild’s debut novel is an achingly beautiful, disarmingly welcoming, and fabulously inventive look at the hollow core of modern American society—and a guide to how we might reanimate all its broken plastic pieces.
1    A DOLL’S HOUSE
 
The episode opens on a plastic woman driving home from work.
 
The camera follows her from outside the car, filming her through the window, showing her hard, glossy face inside the dim sedan. She is in her twenties, a pale figurine, with sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, nylon hair cut short above her ears. Houses whisper past on the street beside her, the sun setting over their rooftops, their shadows long in the last hour of twilight. Her sur­face, smooth and specular, reflects the fading light; her fingers, bent at their hinges, grip the upper rim of the wheel. The name tag pinned to her polo shirt reads, Erin: Ask Me Anything!
 
She rolls to a stop at an empty crosswalk, drums two finger­tips idly against the wheel. A single drone is swimming through the smog above her suburb, like a fish seen from the bottom of a frozen lake. Then, as she glides through the intersection, Erin’s voice begins to narrate on the soundtrack. It is a quiet but expressive voice, just louder than the hum of the tires on the pavement.

A year ago, she narrates, I was a very different person. On a night like this, a Friday, I’d be hurrying home from Tablet Town, dying to hang up my uniform and start the weekend. Patrick was in my life back then, a reason to get through the hours on the sales floor. I thought—no, knew—that nothing could ever take him away from me.
 
The street that scrolls beside her car is dusky and deserted, no vehicles in the driveways, no pedestrians on the sidewalks, no curtains open behind the barred windows. The houses slide past her in a continual sequence, like a succession of blurred photo­graphs, each different in their color scheme but not in their basic construction, shades of pastel siding on the same one-story frame. The backyards are also identical, save for an occasional razor wire fence that glistens above the hedges.
 
The camera leaves the street, cuts to a close-up of the plastic woman. Shadows drift across her molded face.

Last year, if someone had asked me—that other, naive Erin—I would have told them my life was perfect. And it’s true: I was happy, in my own way. Each night I drove home to Pat­rick, hid from the world in his arms. I stayed in with him every weekend, barely went out except for groceries. Oh, Patrick. I lost him in the end, of course. Like I’d lost my father, my sister. Like I’ve lost almost everyone else.
 
Erin slows the car and steers onto the pitted slope of a drive­way. At the top sits a small blue house, its aluminum siding faded, its gable roof missing a few shingles. She stops at the garage, takes out her phone and taps a garage-shaped icon. The wobbly door rattles upward.
These days I spend my weekends alone, just trying to stay distracted. I sleep in as late as I can. I binge episodes of Nuclear Family. I clean the entire house, room by room. And on Friday nights, when I miss Patrick the most, I cut myself some slack. I go online and order a Hot Date. I don’t think too much about it. It just helps.
 
Erin stares at the house in the half-light, her plastic eyes glazed with sunset. The camera holds the shot for a few seconds before the scene fades out.
 
###
 
The next scene opens on a slender kitchen, a clean but timeworn room. The floor is a scuffed linoleum, the oven range missing two knobs; columns of blue poppies bulge along the lumps in the wallpaper. A modest yard is visible beyond the window bars: a square of grass enclosed in hedges, a lone pine tree looming at its rear. The pine tree casts a slanted shadow, stretched out on the lawn like a stilt walker.
 
A door opens on the wall of poppies, revealing the figurine as she steps from her garage. The camera follows Erin as she strides across the kitchen, her gait jerky and mechanical, her upper body unbending. She passes into the dining room and down a brief hallway, the wallpaper darker in patches where a row of picture frames once hung. At the end of the hall is a nar­row bedroom, its curtains wan with twilight, a bottle of prescrip­tion pills open on the bureau. A stuffed seal smiles at her from the shadows of the headboard, its fluffy flippers reaching out in a gesture of embrace.
 
Erin sits stiffly on the bed, crosses her legs with a murmur of hinges. She slips her phone from her Tablet Town slacks—a neon T on either knee—and taps in the passcode. Soon she is scrolling through profiles on Hot Date, picture after picture of plastic men, some stubbled and some clean-shaven, some with innocent smiles, others with coy, seductive smirks. Above them glitters the heading: Pick Ur Boytoy!

Before Patrick died, she narrates, I never dreamed I’d pay for a Hot Date. Why would I? We were settled down, the two of us, starting a family. Even after his murder, I only considered it when these Fridays became so painful. It made me nervous at first, the thought of some stranger coming into my house. But in the end I felt so lonely, I took the chance.
 
She taps the photo of a twenty-year-old Hot Date: a long-haired man with a mellow grin and 4.9 stars, sitting bare-chested in a canoe with a Labrador curled at his feet. Confirm? the app inquires. She confirms. Then she takes off her Tablet Town sneakers—a T on either toe—and leans back against the headboard.
 
TV on, she says to her flatscreen, mounted above the bureau. Open Nuclear Family.
 
The show begins to play, resumed at the opening notes of a musical number. On the screen a teenage figurine paces through his bedroom, a circle of spotlight following him across the sitcom set. He sings a tender ballad to a photo he holds in his hand, a picture of his secret love: a giant waffle boy with rubber arms and legs. As a pedal harp plucks on the soundtrack, he closes his eyes and touches his lips to the waffle’s enormous mouth.
 
Erin lifts her stuffed seal off the headboard. Volume up 3X, she says to the TV.
 
She pets the plush pinniped, staring at the lovelorn boy on-screen.
 
###
MOST ANTICIPATED: NYLON • CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS • NEW SCIENTIST • REACTOR • LITERARY HUB • BOOK RIOT • GIZMODO • OUR CULTURE MAG • KMUW

"A world constructed from strange and wondrous materials. A world that is deeply strange and deeply familiar, with language to matchfunny, broken, sad, and beautiful. Evocative and highly original, Plastic is a captivating debut."
—Charles Yu, National Book Award–winning author of Interior Chinatown

“An immensely fun, engaging novel. . . . Plastic put me in mind of James Morrow or T.C. Boyle, and . . . its gonzo critique of capitalism reminded me of nothing so much as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. . . . Where Plastic shines is in how it remains focused on humanity—no matter how superficial or hollow circumstances make us—and in its sheer inventive sense of play, even with such stakes.”
Jake Casella Brookins, Chicago Review of Books

“A dark and entertaining saga.”
Stuart Miller, Los Angeles Times


"I don't know how to describe Scott Guild's Plastic, a stunningly brilliant novel, other than to say it is profound, hilarious, wrenching, bizarre, about an imaginary universe with incalculable complexities that is also somehow our own broken world. It's one of those books that will follow you around, into your dreams and your daily life. You have never read anything like it. Scott Guild is an endlessly inventive and deeply exciting writer, morbid and funny and strange and humane."
—Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Hero of This Book

“Intricately familiar, disturbingly surreal, and playfully interesting. Coming off the summer of Barbie, you might recognize Plastic’s protagonist, Erin. . . . Wonderfully inventive . . . Plastic is a major treat.”
—Sam Franzini,
Our Culture Mag

"Equal parts funny and poignant, this debut is a deft examination of America and our collective humanity. Clever and wildly imaginative, Plastic has heartfelt heft."
—Parini Shroff, author of The Bandit Queens


"Plastic is one of the most strangely tender and tenderly strange books I've ever read. Scott Guild's language is transportive, and his attention to the characters peopling his unique world is deeply moving. This book is the real deal: fresh, utterly its own, full of both humor and pathos, and so utterly human (plastic skin aside)."
—Ilana Masad, author of All My Mother’s Lovers

“In Plastic, the collision of figurines and the apocalypse is timely, coming as it does on the heels of Barbenheimer. It’s a weird, sometimes puzzling and complicated book, to be sure, but an affecting one with way more depth and humanity than its title would let on.”
—Maren Longbella,
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Plastic] teeters on a tightrope between comedy and incisive commentary. . . . A compelling narrative about a young woman dealing with trauma. . . . Plastic is a book that will stay on my mind.”
Tara Campbell, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Scott Guild . . . has created a literary and sonic universe where his characters have sprung to life, leaping off the page.”
Michael Lello, Highway 81 Revisited


"Few writers are more brilliant, captivating, and hilarious than Scott Guild. He is a visionary—and what he envisions is terrifying, yes, but also full of love, hope, and radiance. Plastic, with its large-hearted characters and riveting storytelling, will certainly turn out to be one of the best novels of the year."
—Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8

"Plastic is a marvel, gimlet-eyed and utterly charming all at once. It’s one of those rare novels that has both big ideas and a big heart. I’m tantalized by its sci-fi grooviness but also moved by the dolls’ interiority, their assessment of their own humanity."
—Timothy Schaffert, author of The Perfume Thief

“Delightfully weird.”
Alison Flood, New Scientist

“Guild’s novel is cinematic. With tones of Black Mirror’s ethical acuity and the quirkiness of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. . . . There remains a tenderness that is at times whimsical in the figurines’ demonstration of how trauma, grief, and disability are still entrenched in the human need for connection.”
—Lillian Liao, Booklist


“Guild shines in his impressions of a speculative world. . . . It’s great fun watching Guild arrange the pieces of this inspired allegory.”
Publishers Weekly


"Guild works the parody and pathos well in this thoughtful entertainment, expertly managing to extract concern and sympathy for the plights of these plastic characters, as human as we are despite their occasionally squeaking leg hinges."
Kirkus Reviews
SCOTT GUILD received his​ MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He served for years as assistant director of Pen City Writers, a prison writing initiative for incarcerated students. He is currently an assistant professor at Marian University in Indianapolis, where he teaches literature and creative writing. Before his degrees, Scott was the songwriter and lead guitarist for the new wave band New Collisions, which toured with the B-52s and opened for Blondie. View titles by Scott Guild

About

For fans of Interior Chinatown and American War, a surreal, hilarious, and sneakily profound debut novel that casts our current climate of gun violence and environmental destruction in a surprising new mold.

"A stunningly brilliant novel. One of those books that will follow you around, into your dreams and your daily life. You have never read anything like it."Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Hero of This Book


Erin is a plastic girl living in a plastic world. Every day she eats a breakfast of boiled chicken, then conveys her articulated body to Tablet Town, where she sells other figurines Smartbodies: wearable tech that allows full, physical immersion in a virtual world, a refuge from real life’s brutal wars, oppressive governmental monitoring, and omnipresent eco-terrorist insurgency. If you cut her, she will not bleed—but she and her fellow figurines can still be cracked or blown apart by gunfire or bombs, or crumble away from nuclear fallout. Erin, who's lost her father, sister, and the love of her life, certainly knows plenty about death.
      An attack at her place of work brings Erin another too-intimate experience, but it also brings her Jacob: a blind figurine whom she comforts in the aftermath, and with whom she feels an almost instant connection. For the first time in years, Erin begins to experience hope—hope that until now she's only gleaned from watching her favorite TV show, the surrealist retro sitcom “Nuclear Family.” Exploring the wild wonders of the virtual reality landscape together, it seems that possibly, slowly, Erin and Jacob may have a chance at healing from their trauma. But then secrets from Erin's family's past begin to invade her carefully constructed reality, and cracks in the facade she's constructed around her life threaten to reveal everything vulnerable beneath.
     Both a crypto-comedic dystopian fantasy and a deadly serious dissection of our own farcical pre-apocalypse, Scott Guild’s debut novel is an achingly beautiful, disarmingly welcoming, and fabulously inventive look at the hollow core of modern American society—and a guide to how we might reanimate all its broken plastic pieces.

Excerpt

1    A DOLL’S HOUSE
 
The episode opens on a plastic woman driving home from work.
 
The camera follows her from outside the car, filming her through the window, showing her hard, glossy face inside the dim sedan. She is in her twenties, a pale figurine, with sunken eyes and hollow cheeks, nylon hair cut short above her ears. Houses whisper past on the street beside her, the sun setting over their rooftops, their shadows long in the last hour of twilight. Her sur­face, smooth and specular, reflects the fading light; her fingers, bent at their hinges, grip the upper rim of the wheel. The name tag pinned to her polo shirt reads, Erin: Ask Me Anything!
 
She rolls to a stop at an empty crosswalk, drums two finger­tips idly against the wheel. A single drone is swimming through the smog above her suburb, like a fish seen from the bottom of a frozen lake. Then, as she glides through the intersection, Erin’s voice begins to narrate on the soundtrack. It is a quiet but expressive voice, just louder than the hum of the tires on the pavement.

A year ago, she narrates, I was a very different person. On a night like this, a Friday, I’d be hurrying home from Tablet Town, dying to hang up my uniform and start the weekend. Patrick was in my life back then, a reason to get through the hours on the sales floor. I thought—no, knew—that nothing could ever take him away from me.
 
The street that scrolls beside her car is dusky and deserted, no vehicles in the driveways, no pedestrians on the sidewalks, no curtains open behind the barred windows. The houses slide past her in a continual sequence, like a succession of blurred photo­graphs, each different in their color scheme but not in their basic construction, shades of pastel siding on the same one-story frame. The backyards are also identical, save for an occasional razor wire fence that glistens above the hedges.
 
The camera leaves the street, cuts to a close-up of the plastic woman. Shadows drift across her molded face.

Last year, if someone had asked me—that other, naive Erin—I would have told them my life was perfect. And it’s true: I was happy, in my own way. Each night I drove home to Pat­rick, hid from the world in his arms. I stayed in with him every weekend, barely went out except for groceries. Oh, Patrick. I lost him in the end, of course. Like I’d lost my father, my sister. Like I’ve lost almost everyone else.
 
Erin slows the car and steers onto the pitted slope of a drive­way. At the top sits a small blue house, its aluminum siding faded, its gable roof missing a few shingles. She stops at the garage, takes out her phone and taps a garage-shaped icon. The wobbly door rattles upward.
These days I spend my weekends alone, just trying to stay distracted. I sleep in as late as I can. I binge episodes of Nuclear Family. I clean the entire house, room by room. And on Friday nights, when I miss Patrick the most, I cut myself some slack. I go online and order a Hot Date. I don’t think too much about it. It just helps.
 
Erin stares at the house in the half-light, her plastic eyes glazed with sunset. The camera holds the shot for a few seconds before the scene fades out.
 
###
 
The next scene opens on a slender kitchen, a clean but timeworn room. The floor is a scuffed linoleum, the oven range missing two knobs; columns of blue poppies bulge along the lumps in the wallpaper. A modest yard is visible beyond the window bars: a square of grass enclosed in hedges, a lone pine tree looming at its rear. The pine tree casts a slanted shadow, stretched out on the lawn like a stilt walker.
 
A door opens on the wall of poppies, revealing the figurine as she steps from her garage. The camera follows Erin as she strides across the kitchen, her gait jerky and mechanical, her upper body unbending. She passes into the dining room and down a brief hallway, the wallpaper darker in patches where a row of picture frames once hung. At the end of the hall is a nar­row bedroom, its curtains wan with twilight, a bottle of prescrip­tion pills open on the bureau. A stuffed seal smiles at her from the shadows of the headboard, its fluffy flippers reaching out in a gesture of embrace.
 
Erin sits stiffly on the bed, crosses her legs with a murmur of hinges. She slips her phone from her Tablet Town slacks—a neon T on either knee—and taps in the passcode. Soon she is scrolling through profiles on Hot Date, picture after picture of plastic men, some stubbled and some clean-shaven, some with innocent smiles, others with coy, seductive smirks. Above them glitters the heading: Pick Ur Boytoy!

Before Patrick died, she narrates, I never dreamed I’d pay for a Hot Date. Why would I? We were settled down, the two of us, starting a family. Even after his murder, I only considered it when these Fridays became so painful. It made me nervous at first, the thought of some stranger coming into my house. But in the end I felt so lonely, I took the chance.
 
She taps the photo of a twenty-year-old Hot Date: a long-haired man with a mellow grin and 4.9 stars, sitting bare-chested in a canoe with a Labrador curled at his feet. Confirm? the app inquires. She confirms. Then she takes off her Tablet Town sneakers—a T on either toe—and leans back against the headboard.
 
TV on, she says to her flatscreen, mounted above the bureau. Open Nuclear Family.
 
The show begins to play, resumed at the opening notes of a musical number. On the screen a teenage figurine paces through his bedroom, a circle of spotlight following him across the sitcom set. He sings a tender ballad to a photo he holds in his hand, a picture of his secret love: a giant waffle boy with rubber arms and legs. As a pedal harp plucks on the soundtrack, he closes his eyes and touches his lips to the waffle’s enormous mouth.
 
Erin lifts her stuffed seal off the headboard. Volume up 3X, she says to the TV.
 
She pets the plush pinniped, staring at the lovelorn boy on-screen.
 
###

Reviews

MOST ANTICIPATED: NYLON • CHICAGO REVIEW OF BOOKS • NEW SCIENTIST • REACTOR • LITERARY HUB • BOOK RIOT • GIZMODO • OUR CULTURE MAG • KMUW

"A world constructed from strange and wondrous materials. A world that is deeply strange and deeply familiar, with language to matchfunny, broken, sad, and beautiful. Evocative and highly original, Plastic is a captivating debut."
—Charles Yu, National Book Award–winning author of Interior Chinatown

“An immensely fun, engaging novel. . . . Plastic put me in mind of James Morrow or T.C. Boyle, and . . . its gonzo critique of capitalism reminded me of nothing so much as Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash. . . . Where Plastic shines is in how it remains focused on humanity—no matter how superficial or hollow circumstances make us—and in its sheer inventive sense of play, even with such stakes.”
Jake Casella Brookins, Chicago Review of Books

“A dark and entertaining saga.”
Stuart Miller, Los Angeles Times


"I don't know how to describe Scott Guild's Plastic, a stunningly brilliant novel, other than to say it is profound, hilarious, wrenching, bizarre, about an imaginary universe with incalculable complexities that is also somehow our own broken world. It's one of those books that will follow you around, into your dreams and your daily life. You have never read anything like it. Scott Guild is an endlessly inventive and deeply exciting writer, morbid and funny and strange and humane."
—Elizabeth McCracken, author of The Hero of This Book

“Intricately familiar, disturbingly surreal, and playfully interesting. Coming off the summer of Barbie, you might recognize Plastic’s protagonist, Erin. . . . Wonderfully inventive . . . Plastic is a major treat.”
—Sam Franzini,
Our Culture Mag

"Equal parts funny and poignant, this debut is a deft examination of America and our collective humanity. Clever and wildly imaginative, Plastic has heartfelt heft."
—Parini Shroff, author of The Bandit Queens


"Plastic is one of the most strangely tender and tenderly strange books I've ever read. Scott Guild's language is transportive, and his attention to the characters peopling his unique world is deeply moving. This book is the real deal: fresh, utterly its own, full of both humor and pathos, and so utterly human (plastic skin aside)."
—Ilana Masad, author of All My Mother’s Lovers

“In Plastic, the collision of figurines and the apocalypse is timely, coming as it does on the heels of Barbenheimer. It’s a weird, sometimes puzzling and complicated book, to be sure, but an affecting one with way more depth and humanity than its title would let on.”
—Maren Longbella,
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“[Plastic] teeters on a tightrope between comedy and incisive commentary. . . . A compelling narrative about a young woman dealing with trauma. . . . Plastic is a book that will stay on my mind.”
Tara Campbell, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Scott Guild . . . has created a literary and sonic universe where his characters have sprung to life, leaping off the page.”
Michael Lello, Highway 81 Revisited


"Few writers are more brilliant, captivating, and hilarious than Scott Guild. He is a visionary—and what he envisions is terrifying, yes, but also full of love, hope, and radiance. Plastic, with its large-hearted characters and riveting storytelling, will certainly turn out to be one of the best novels of the year."
—Deb Olin Unferth, author of Barn 8

"Plastic is a marvel, gimlet-eyed and utterly charming all at once. It’s one of those rare novels that has both big ideas and a big heart. I’m tantalized by its sci-fi grooviness but also moved by the dolls’ interiority, their assessment of their own humanity."
—Timothy Schaffert, author of The Perfume Thief

“Delightfully weird.”
Alison Flood, New Scientist

“Guild’s novel is cinematic. With tones of Black Mirror’s ethical acuity and the quirkiness of Everything, Everywhere, All at Once. . . . There remains a tenderness that is at times whimsical in the figurines’ demonstration of how trauma, grief, and disability are still entrenched in the human need for connection.”
—Lillian Liao, Booklist


“Guild shines in his impressions of a speculative world. . . . It’s great fun watching Guild arrange the pieces of this inspired allegory.”
Publishers Weekly


"Guild works the parody and pathos well in this thoughtful entertainment, expertly managing to extract concern and sympathy for the plights of these plastic characters, as human as we are despite their occasionally squeaking leg hinges."
Kirkus Reviews

Author

SCOTT GUILD received his​ MFA from the New Writers Project at the University of Texas at Austin, and his PhD in English from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. He served for years as assistant director of Pen City Writers, a prison writing initiative for incarcerated students. He is currently an assistant professor at Marian University in Indianapolis, where he teaches literature and creative writing. Before his degrees, Scott was the songwriter and lead guitarist for the new wave band New Collisions, which toured with the B-52s and opened for Blondie. View titles by Scott Guild