Checkpoint Paperback – 9 Sep 2004
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An incendiary firecracker of a novel about a man who wants to assassinate President Bush.
About the Author
Born in 1957, the author of several acclaimed novels, most recently A Box of Matches, and two controversially sexy ones (Vox and The Fermata) as well as essays.,including the campaigning Double Fold for which the New York Times called him 'the Erin Brokovich of the library world'.
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That cleared, this scamming little novella may not sport the sparkling prose of a typical Baker tome but it offers a delectable flavour in its own right.
The text is in its entirety a dinner-table conversation between two friends, one a fanatic opponent of Bush's invasion of Iraq and thus contemplating killing the president with a giant rolling ball (and other contraptions like it, let's not dwell on trivia that're to be savoured in Baker's customary bizzare prose), and the other a wiser, more balanced sort attempting to dissuade his friend with murderous tendencies.
With this scaffolding, Baker presents not only some very interesting trivia such as an updated version of Napalm being allegedly employed in Iraq despite all claims to the contrary (apparently because the formula is technically different; more lethal now) but also some very opinionated insights into the heart of the matter.
Barring the somewhat twisted inference that our assassin-wannabe draws from his indignations, or the odd out-of-place rant on evils of abortion and such, this is quite a clever little conversation that shouldn't take more than a couple of hours to devour from cover to cover.
I'd recommend it in a blink.
The novel is written as a transcript of a taped conversation between two friends, Ben and Jay. The book's a quick read at just a little over 100 pages and can be devoured in a few hours. The intense conversation captures Jay's rage at Bush and his bloody crusades in Iraq, and while Ben empathizes, he is the voice of reason trying to keep Jay under control. Jay rails about the mutilated Iraqi children, Bush and friends' shameless self-enrichment while others suffer, etc. Ben, who appears to be more interested in history than the present, tries to get Jay interested in photography, and tells him that he has to concentrate on the beautiful trees, not the metaphorical gnats swarming around him.
If you're at the library or bookstore, do yourself a favor and breeze through this book. Anyone should be able to feel an echo or twinge of Jay's rage when he depicts the gross aggression and hypocrisy of this Administration. While the reader probably won't agree with the entirety of what Jay says, the dialogue is powerful and affecting.
This book will be even more grimly relevant if Dubya manages somehow to win the upcoming election. The neocons are itching for more war and the silver-spoon simian is happy to appease them. We are a few small steps from reinstatement of the draft and other morbid reminders of Vietnam. If this happens, I am sure the streets will be filled with Jays.
But that's not the point: The point is seeing two people living in the United States in 2002/2003. While the protagonists do, occasionaly, make points that real political commentators make, they also make absolutely loony points. Like a David Mamet or Harold Pinter play, the pleasure in this book is the dialog (the book is all dialog), the characters, and their relationship.
When reading this book it might be worthwhile to take the long view: Assume that the protagonists are living in the time of Louis XIV and are considering assissinating the king. In that frame of mind, you wouldn't care about the politics and would only interested in the people. On that basis, I enjoyed the book. What is impressive to me is how much the author reveals about the characters and their values through the incidentals of the character's conversation. We see two people who really have given up on any hope of influencing their country's direction (or even the direction of their own lives) and who can not tell the difference between fact and supposition. They have come to the point where the only difference they believe that they can make in the public sphere is through some spasmodic dramatic action.
many people will concentrate on the fact that the novel is framed as a persuasive argument (a dialogue, almost in theater form) for and against killing a sitting president, and that's for some a violation of "holy" edict. but that's really a sideshow within the book, imo, which is more of a discourse on the popular perception of futility and despair in the state of american government affairs, and is vivified by resultant (and altogether common) anger. it also pays to note that the novel could have just as well been written from the republican point of view about killing clinton.
the dialogue moves quickly if obsessively and rambling, and the book is a short and easy read. the conversational language is typical of the informal stream-of-consciousness literature of our times, which robs the language of any poetry but is widely accessible even among the barely literate. symbolism is somewhat heavyhanded -- some of it made necessarily ridiculous by the need to skirt american law regarding our demotic royalty.
works like this from intellectual authors -- especially one that has built a reputation on close observation -- appear only in times of great political stress, imo. the very existence of the book is perhaps its most interesting feature, serving as a sort of standardized-testing oval in an examination of our society that we can now shade in with our No. 2 pencil. as an observation of our world, it is a warning for the perceptive -- the understanding and compromise and patience of days gone by is fraying, even if it is still usually reached, and the end of civil peace may be approaching.