Gary Brandt's novel The Vault Apocalyptia started with a dream. Not a dream of writing a book, but an actual dream. Thirty-odd years ago, Brandt dreamt he was on a walking tour of Earth after a nuclear war, smoking ruins and all. He was in a creative writing class at the time, and the dream begot a 10-page short story. That grew into a 100-page novella. In 2002, he embarked on turning his dream into a full-blown novel that he finally finished this summer. And what a novel it is.
The dense, satirical book follows a tour of the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, N.M. A chirpy docent leads readers through displays, songs, character studies and texts within texts that add up to an intricately fashioned alternative history of America's absurdly horrifying atomic age.
Brandt's tone blends Leave It to Beaver–era credulity and advertising hucksterism with a wry sense of humor about what's really going on. The expansive, digressive style and delicious wordplay channel James Joyce and Thomas Pynchon.
Brandt, by the way, is the Bohemian's copy editor, but as his book makes clear, he's a hell of a writer, too. The excerpt below introduces readers to one of the most gleefully drawn characters in the book, the bomb-making prodigy Ruben Boomerkoff. —Stett Holbrook