THE SMALL, DRY TOWNS that lead eastward from Los Angeles to Indio, across the lap of California, form an island chain in a sea of sand, each with its own biome and yet each enough like the other to form, in aggregate, one place. The chain is a kind of Galapagos, easily isolated by its natural isolation, and ripe for study. It is in this insular region that The Angry Buddhist, Los Angeles writer Seth Greenland's third novel, operates, studying closely the evolutionary winners and losers of the area. But of course any region, even a solidly organized body such as that grassy monolith, the American Midwest, is never really just one place. There are subtleties and shadings visible only to those with adapted eyes, and it is those subtleties that Greenland crafts into a wild social farce, dependent on fine distinctions...
It is the human extremes that are Greenland's subject, and he captures the high and low end with a crafty gaze. He begins, logically, at the center, where there is plenty of shelter.
Alison Powell (LA Review of Books)
This idea that messy and inept human striving is the best producer of plot recalls the recent fictive universes of Elmore Leonard, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen brothers (lords of anarchy, all of them, and, I'd venture, influences here). This novel is Greenland's third, after "The Bones" and "Shining City," and it's easily his most ambitious.
Some one-liners still come off sounding too glib and cute (a young reporter "looks like she studied at the Victoria's Secret School of Journalism" and "Guilt is as pointless as the Pope in Tel Aviv"), but it's better to stuff in too many jokes than avoid them altogether. In any event, Greenland does bring more serious themes into play. The big issue, explored through the questing character of Jimmy Duke, is: "how is it possible to practice non-attachment if you have a moral perspective on the world?"
Novelists too need to be nimble, and "The Angry Buddhist" is a wild entertainment as well as a novel about the way we live now that dares to dance with the profound.
Richard Rayner (LA Times)
"Profundity can be found in the strangest places," DharmaGirl counsels. "Everyone makes fun of fortune cookies. I don't know why."
"The Angry Buddhist" approaches all its characters with reliable misanthropy (not for nothing does Larry David provide this book's most visible blurb). And its story unfolds with dexterous ease. Even a minor figure like Hard's wife, Vonda Jean, who wears "an expression as nurturing as an oil spill" and always leaves the television on "so she'll have something else to listen to in the event Hard starts talking," is made funny and sharp. The book's women are more cartoonish than its men. But the competition is pretty fierce.
"The Angry Buddhist" makes a fine high-end beach read for election season. But, perhaps surprisingly, the least interesting story element in "The Angry Buddhist" is the anonymous political blogger who provides a running commentary on campaign issues. The blogger tethers this otherwise escapist fable to real life.
Janet Maslin (New York Times)