Review published on April 11, 2017.
If you, like me, whiled away the hours in the 1980s with a battered Commodore 64, you’ll find plenty to spark your nostalgia in Jason Rekulak’s The Impossible Fortress, which tells the story of fourteen-year-old Billy, who is obsessed with two things: computer games and getting the latest copy of Playboy.
It’s the second of these two fixations that drives the first part of the novel, as Billy and his friends Alf and Clark devise ever more complex schemes for setting eyes on the dreamed of pictures of Vanna White, hostess of Wheel of Fortune. I’m no fan of Hugh Hefner’s work, but the comedy created by the boys’ increasingly elaborate and frequently thwarted plans is very entertaining. The early versions of the plan involve disguises, pretend businesses and visits to a local stationery store, which is where Billy meets Mary Zelinsky, a fellow computer game enthusiast and programming whizz. It’s the flyer Mary gives Billy, advertising a contest for designing a game, which drives the middle-third of the novel.
It’s fair to say that my love of playing Purple Turtles on the good old Commodore 64 didn’t translate into an adult love of gaming, but I nonetheless found The Impossible Fortress and its geeky plot really entertaining. Billy is an amusingly clueless narrator – suitably for a fourteen-year-old boy, perhaps – and it means that an adult reader will spot things that he initially fails to notice, particularly in his relationship with Mary. It’s one of the features that makes this such a winning and charming novel.
The 1980s provide a perfect setting, particularly for readers like me whose earliest cultural experiences took place in the latter part of the decade. My favourite of Rekulak’s references was the psychotic dog going by the name of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but the many allusions to music mean that The Impossible Fortress also comes with its own in-built 80s playlist, which can never be a bad thing.
Katy Goodwin-Bates 5/5
The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak
Faber & Faber 9780571330621 pbk Apr 2017