Advertising and consumerism get put on the examining table in Alex Shakar’s first novel, The Savage Girl (HarperCollins, 2001).

The story follows Ursula Van Urden as she moves to fictional Middle City to become a trend spotter for her sister Ivy’s ex-boyfriend, in order to deal with Ivy’s schizo phrenia. At first coolly cynical about her new profession, she soon becomes fascinated by her co-workers’ apparent ability to manipulate consumer culture to their own ends.

When Ursula’s own observations of a “savage” girl living primitively in a park lead to an ad campaign touting a new product, she is on top of the world. But Ivy is chosen to star in the effort, and Ursula’s personal and work life, as well as the divide between appreciation and exploitation, start to blur.

Filled with surreal touches—a theme restaurant filled with gross-out images; a diet-water product that flies off the shelves—Shakar’s book provides a moody, atmospheric look at a world in which consumerism will either damn us or save us, and no one is quite sure which it will be.

The novel is slated to debut in October.