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The Sun Collective
Cover of The Sun Collective
The Sun Collective
A Novel
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*A NEW YORK TIMES 2021 NOTABLE BOOK*
A timely and unsettling novel about the people drawn to and unmoored by a local activist group more dangerous than it appears—from the winner of the PEN/Malamud Award and “one of our most gifted writers” (Chicago Tribune).

Once a promising actor, Tim Brettigan has gone missing. His father thinks he may have seen him among some homeless people. And though she knows he left on purpose, his mother has been searching for him all over the city. She checks the usual places—churches, storefronts, benches—and stum­bles upon a local community group with lofty goals and an enigmatic leader who will alter all of their lives. Christina, a young woman rapidly becoming addicted to a boutique drug that gives her a feeling of blessedness, is inexplicably drawn to the same collective by a man who’s convinced he may start a revolution. As the lives of these four characters intertwine, a story of guilt, anxiety, and feverish hope unfolds in the city of Minneapolis.
 
A vision of modern American society and the specters of the consumerism, fanaticism, and fear that haunt it, The Sun Collective captures both the mystery and the violence that punctuate our daily lives.
*A NEW YORK TIMES 2021 NOTABLE BOOK*
A timely and unsettling novel about the people drawn to and unmoored by a local activist group more dangerous than it appears—from the winner of the PEN/Malamud Award and “one of our most gifted writers” (Chicago Tribune).

Once a promising actor, Tim Brettigan has gone missing. His father thinks he may have seen him among some homeless people. And though she knows he left on purpose, his mother has been searching for him all over the city. She checks the usual places—churches, storefronts, benches—and stum­bles upon a local community group with lofty goals and an enigmatic leader who will alter all of their lives. Christina, a young woman rapidly becoming addicted to a boutique drug that gives her a feeling of blessedness, is inexplicably drawn to the same collective by a man who’s convinced he may start a revolution. As the lives of these four characters intertwine, a story of guilt, anxiety, and feverish hope unfolds in the city of Minneapolis.
 
A vision of modern American society and the specters of the consumerism, fanaticism, and fear that haunt it, The Sun Collective captures both the mystery and the violence that punctuate our daily lives.
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  • From the cover Bracing herself, and involuntarily bunching her shoulders together, she walked forward out of the conservatory and into the snowstorm outside, following a path that led into the little zoo. Almost no one was here. She saw one maintenance worker clearing a path on the sidewalk, and, ahead of her, a tall forlorn solitary man, though certainly not Wye, wearing a stocking cap, a red scarf, and a long brown winter overcoat, approaching her. The guy was walking with his head down, his hands in his overcoat pockets, past the pri­mate cage. Another lost soul, she thought, somebody killing time by wandering through the zoo in November. Seeing Christina, he turned toward her and waved, a gesture of pure loneliness. Snow covered the lenses of his eyeglasses and was nestling in his eyebrows, though he must have seen her somehow, because, after all, he had waved at her. He coughed.
     
    What the hell: she waved back.
     
    Putting her hands back into her pockets, Christina plunged ahead, the snow now getting under her cap into her eyes and sticking to her eyelashes, as she walked into the Primate Building. Inside, the little monkeys, or whatever they were, were crouched in pairs grooming each other, and after studying their solicitous behavior, she walked out the other side of the building toward the western edge of the zoo where the wolves were caged.
     
    ###
     
    Their outdoor pen was about half the size of a football field. The wolves, like the snow, were white, and one of them was pacing back and forth at the edge of the opposite side near the high fencing. Each time the wolf reached the corner, it would turn and head back in the direction from which it had come. It seemed to be trying to solve a problem. The animal appeared to be thinking. What, Chris­tina wondered, was it worrying about? Maybe the problem it was trying to solve was What am I doing here? How did I get here? And how do I get out? Christina projected her thoughts into the wolf’s mind, and thoughts from the wolf came back to her. There must be an answer, the wolf believed, in wolf-thought. In wolf-world, everything had a purpose, except being in a zoo. All caged and imprisoned creatures were forced to mull over such questions.
     
    For a moment, looking at the height of the fencing, Christina imagined herself inside the enclosure, and the wolf outside, free.
     
    On this side of the cage, only half-visible in the storm, stood Wye. He wore a bright blue parka matted with snow, thick mittens, and a woolen cap on which snow had already accumulated. His dark glasses, the ones that he customarily wore, had a curtain of snow over them, and more snow was accumulating in his scraggly beard. He looked like a sage in disguise, a snow-bespectacled shaman. As Christina approached him, she heard him muttering instructions to the wolves.
     
    “This is where the magic happens,” Wye said, studying the pacing wolf.
     
    “What? What magic?” Christina asked. “I don’t see any magic.”
     
    “You have come here,” Wye continued, still not turning around to acknowledge her—it was one of his gifts to know when people were nearby him, given his creepy extrasensitive human radar—“you have come here to ask about your boyfriend, Ludlow, and about the other one, Timothy.”
     
    “Yes. How did you know?”
     
    “Wolves don’t like human beings, did you know that?” Wye asked. “They detest and avoid us. They can’t stand the way we smell. Our smell offends them. Even when starving, they will not...
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 7, 2020
    Baxter’s first novel in over a decade (after The Soul Thief) juggles satirical social critique and family drama, resulting in a messy yet engrossing tale of activism and aging. Retired Minneapolis engineer Harry Brettigan spends his days searching for his adult son, Tim, who fell out of touch months earlier, and sweetly bickering with his wife, Alma. After Alma faints one day, she starts talking with their pets and is drawn to the Sun Collective, a community group that offers resources to homeless people. There, she befriends a younger couple, Ludlow and Christina, and Harry balks when Ludlow details his homicidal vision for “effective microviolence” against suburbanites to achieve the Sun Collective’s full potential. As Harry reckons with his relationships to Alma and Tim, he also travels down the rabbit hole of the Sun Collective to parse its true intentions; along the way, Tim reappears as a saved Collective member; the Sandmen, an extremist group that allegedly murders vagrants, emerge; and there’s a series of mysterious deaths. Throughout, Baxter smartly lampoons America’s political state and adds enough odd details to offset the occasionally murky plot threads. Readers willing to wade through the diversions will find a thoughtful study of anger, grief, and hope.

  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Bronson Pinchot adds a comic tone and an arched eyebrow to celebrated novelist Charles Baxter's latest fictional critique of contemporary society and politics. Retired Minneapolis engineer Harry Brettigan is searching for his lost son, Tim, who may be homeless. At the same time, Harry worries about America and President Thorkelson's erratic and disturbing behavior. When Harry's wife, Alma, falls and starts talking to the pets, Pinchot draws on his ability to inhabit secondary characters. Pinchot leads the listener into the shady rabbit hole of the Sun Collective as Harry unravels the real motives of the community group's support for the homeless. Pinchot's knowing tone adds an entertaining comic slant to Baxter's satire of America's political conflict. R.O. � AudioFile 2021, Portland, Maine
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The Sun Collective
A Novel
Charles Baxter
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