After reviewing the last few Christopher Buckley novels, I'm not sure how many new ways I can come up with saying, "Oh my gosh, this guy is funny!" I started laughing while reading the list of players at the front of the novel. ("Winnie Chang, chair, U.S.-China Co-Dependency Council") I chuckled over the novel's opening sentence. ("The senator from the great state of New York had been droning on for over five minutes, droning about drones.") I think part of my appreciation of Buckley's satire is that I'm a native Washingtonian. Buckley gets DC, the way that Armisted Maupin gets San Francisco--but, like the city he writes about, without all the heart.
In They Eat Puppies, Don't They?, Mr. Buckley is returning to several themes we've seen before. He goes after some of the same targets, too: politicians, the media, Hollywood, reality television, pundits, trophy wives, the uninformed populace, and--of course--novelists. Who can blame him? They all make such inviting targets!
The protagonist at the heart of this novel feels familiar, as well. Lobbyist "Bird" McIntyre shares some of the same DNA as the delightfully unrepentant Nick Naylor in Thank You for Smoking. Both men have an unpopular job to do, and they take pride in their work. Bird is a defense lobbyist. After Congress shoots down his employer's latest big budget defense project in the novel's opening scene, he fears for his job. Fortunately, his employer has something even bigger, more deadly, and more top-secret up his sleeve. It's so top-secret that he won't even tell Bird. Instead, he sets Bird up in a shill foundation called Pan-Pacific Solutions, where he is tasked with rustling up some anti-China sentiment to grease the wheels for this next project's appropriations.
To accomplish this task, Bird teams up with the mediagenic Angel Templeton, the Coulter-esque hottie from the Institute for Continuing Conflict. Bird pitches her:
"Friday I stayed up until the roosters started, doing research. The Dalai Lama is the one thing having to do with China that Americans actually care about. Human rights? Zzzzz. Terrible working conditions in Chinese factories? Zzzzz. Where's my iPad? Global warming? Zzzzzz. Taiwan? Wasn't that some novel by James Clavell? Zzzzzz. When's the last time you heard anyone say, `We really must go to war with China over Taiwan'? But the Dalai Lama? Americans LOVE that guy. The whole world loves him. What's not to love? He's a seventy-five-year-old sweetie pie with glasses, plus the sandals and the saffron robe and the hugging and the mandalas and the peace and harmony and the reincarnation and nirvana. All that. We can't get enough of him. If the American public were told that those rotten Commie swines in Beijing were"--Bird lowered his voice--"putting... whatever, arsenic, radioactive pellets, in his yak butter, you don't think that would cause a little firestorm out there in public-opinion land?"
And they're off to the races! Buckley's tale is the perfect intersection of absurd and smart. It's outlandish and uproarious. It's just crazy enough to be true. It's obvious that Buckley has a great grasp of the issues in order to be so effective in skewering all of the players. They Eat Puppies, Don't They? reads like a novel-length Doonesbury strip, and I laughed long and loud all the way through it. Some of Mr. Buckley's recent novels have felt a bit like "Buckley light." Not this one. This is the real deal. It's smart, it's funny, and it's biting. This may be his best satire in years.