Tag Archives for " satire "

Berkeley goes off the rails in this new satirical novel

satirical novelFamily Genus Species, by Kevin Allardice

@@ (2 out of 5)

In a satirical take on Berkeley’s “self-righteous mutual appreciation society,” Berkeley author Kevin Allardice meshes the language of discontent with the fantasy of the absurd. The author himself characterizes his new novella, Family Genus Species, as a “wickedly funny satire of parenting and privilege, sex and politics, set in the shadow of civil unrest.” But I didn’t find the book wickedly funny. In fact, I didn’t find it funny at all—mildly amusing at times, perhaps, but not funny. Berkeley has taken enough hits from outsiders. We don’t need another one from our own.

Here’s the set-up; take it or leave it. The protagonist is an overweight and underachieving young woman who calls herself Vee. (We’ll find out later where this name comes from but wish we hadn’t.) Vee arrives in the urban garden behind her sister Pam’s house in North Berkeley for a birthday party for Pam’s four-year-old son, Charlie. Vee carries a present for Charlie, a plastic model of a huge dinosaur. Pam had made clear in her invitation that guests were not to bring presents—family and friends are gifts enough, in her view—but for some reason Vee is determined that Charlie get the dinosaur. For much of the novel, the action centers around Vee’s hours-long and exceedingly frustrating efforts to find Charlie so she can place the gift in his hands. Somehow, this deceptively low-key domestic saga devolves into a violent climax involving an attempted rape, small children acting like characters out of Lord of the Flies, “protesters” who have invaded the Berkeley Hills, and police officers in riot gear who descend from black helicopters intent on mayhem.

So, what’s wrong with any of this, you might ask? For starters, Vee is not a sympathetic character. Even though her big sister is obviously a self-involved (and, yes, self-righteous) pain in the ass, Vee is even less likable: self-pitying, aimless, and ultimately uninteresting. The children at Charlie’s party who are described as “small children, from diaper-age to first grade,” suddenly end up acting and speaking like teenagers on speed. And Pam’s “sprawling urban farm” clearly occupies as much territory as a national forest, since people can get lost in it for hours on end. In Berkeley.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love satire—when it’s well done. The work of Christopher Buckley, for example, such as They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, which I reviewed at Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel. Or his God is My Broker, reviewed at Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley. You might also be interested in Ten great recent books by Berkeley writers. 

From Connie Willis satire that doesn’t make me laugh

satireBellwether, by Connie Willis

@@ (2 out of 5)

I’m a big fan of satire. For instance, I love Christopher Buckley‘s books. Some of them make me laugh almost nonstop. But there’s nothing worse than a satirical tale that. Just. Isn’t. Funny. Unfortunately, that’s what I found in Bellwether by Connie Willis. Apparently, Willis wrote the novel to satirize scientists and corporate bureaucracy. But the characters and their behavior are over the top. To call them outrageous might be a compliment. A little restraint would have gone a long way.

So, how did I get sucked into reading this book in the first place, much less read it all the way to the end? Connie Willis is an extraordinarily talented science fiction and fantasy author. She has won eleven Hugo Awards and seven Nebula Awards—more major awards than any other writer in the field. Years ago, I was greatly impressed by her 1992 Nebula Award-winner about time travel, Doomsday Book. And the cover of Bellwether characterizes her (justifiably) as “one of science fiction’s best writers.” Unaccountably, Bellwether, published five years after Doomsday Book, was itself nominated for a Nebula Award. Suffice it to say that if I had been voting—I’m a long-time member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, though no longer a voting member—I would have gone for something much more in line with my idea of science fiction. Bellwether doesn’t cut it.

The novel’s protagonist is one Sandra Foster. She calls herself a scientist and engages in lots of mathematical calculations to prove it. She is analyzing fads and fashions for the unimaginatively named HiTek Company, presumably in an effort to discover how fads start and “how scientific discoveries come about.” (The connection between these two lines of inquiry is not obvious to me.) Management (capital “M”)—a person, not a category—of HiTek is interested in her work, she believes, because he is eager to learn how to start fads himself. Sandy is plagued by the rudeness and incompetence of the “interdepartmental assistant” who misdelivers mail, starts ugly rumors, and refuses to take on routine assignments such as photocopying. Compounding problems for Sandy, Management is obsessed with impossibly long forms on paper, which are impossible to understand, and with the latest acronym-laden management theory, which changes every few days. As I said, the story is over the top. But the situation becomes even more intolerable when Management decides that the entire scientific staff must bear down in an effort to win the prestigious, million-dollar Niebnitz Grant.

Each chapter in Bellwether begins with a brief description of one or another fad that has captivated humanity through the ages, from the hula hoop to quality circles, miniature golf, hot pants, coonskin caps, chain letters, and many more. Some of this material is interesting. But there’s entirely too much of it.

Eventually, Sandy teams up with a researcher in chaos theory named Bennett O’Reilly. Absurdly, Ben is attempting to learn what sets chaotic conditions in motion, apparently believing there must be some logic in a complex system. Will Sandy and Ben fall in love? Will they win the Niebnitz Grant? You shouldn’t have to read this book to figure it out.

For a successful effort at satire, see Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley or Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel of politics and diplomacy today.

Rereading Brave New World with a would-be dictator in the White House

Brave New WorldBrave New World, by Aldous Huxley

@@@ (3 out of 5)

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s seminal works of dystopian literature. Critics today tend to group it with George Orwell’s 1984, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and other highly respected novels that depict a grim future for the human race. However, the books by Orwell, Atwood, and Dick appear to have been intended as social commentary, whereas Huxley’s is essentially a philosophical reflection on the human condition. As a novel, it’s far less satisfying.

Brave New World was published in 1932, and it shows. The society Huxley describes is grounded in the conflicts and technological debates of the 1920s: the rise of fascism and the prospects for sleep learning (hypnopaedia) and in vitro fertilization, in particular. More telling still, the names of many of the characters in the novel are derived from Huxley’s contemporaries and historical figures whose influence was still active at the time. These include the society’s deity, “Our Ford” (Henry Ford); Lenina Crowne (Vladimir Lenin); Benito Hoover (Benito Mussolini and Herbert Hoover); Morgana Rothschild (J. P. Morgan and Lionel Rothschild); George Edzel (Henry Ford’s son, Edsel); Bernard Marx (Karl Marx); and Sarojini Engels (Sarojini Naidu, President of the Indian National Congress, and Friedrich Engels); and others. Clearly, Huxley was having fun.

The novel is set in the 26th century (AF 632 or “After Ford”). Society is governed by the motto COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY, an ideal enforced by the universal use of a tranquilizing drug called soma and the encouragement of unrestrained promiscuous sex. Pregnancy and motherhood are crimes; babies are raised in “bottles” thousands at a time in massive creches. The story revolves around the relationship between psychologist Bernard Marx and a young woman named Lenina Crowne. Both work at the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Center. There, babies are born,  “hatched” or “decanted,” and conditioned through sleep learning from childhood through adolescence in enormous numbers.

Bernard is an Alpha Plus, a member of the society’s intellectual elite; Lenina is a Beta Minus, a subordinate employee at the Hatchery, but far more favored than the Gammas, Deltas, and Epsilons, who have been conditioned to possess lower intelligence and to perform the less skilled and less desirable jobs. But Bernard is mocked by his fellow Alphas for his short stature, which causes him to overcompensate through arrogance and misplaced assertiveness, while Lenina is a strikingly beautiful young woman who is constantly sought after as a sexual partner. The contrast leads Bernard to shrink in fear at the prospect of asking Lenina for a date. When he finally does so, the date leads them to a Navajo Reservation, where Native Americans live in abject poverty within high walls that insulate them from contemporary society. There, the two encounter a young Englishman who had been raised as a “savage” after his mother was trapped many years earlier, pregnant, behind the walls. The story reaches a climax not long after Bernard and Lenina return to London with “Mr. Savage” in tow. If this is all satire, the references are lost on me.

Brave New World abounds with quotations from Shakespeare. The title itself is from The Tempest: “O brave new world
That has such people in’t!” says Miranda to Prospero. The device Huxley uses to introduce most of the other quotes from the bard is The Complete Works of Shakespeare, which is the book “Mr. Savage” used to learn to read English on the reservation. Of the many elements in the novel that I find difficult to understand, this is one of the most extreme: most of Shakespeare is impenetrable to me, because the language is so archaic. However, it makes for colorful conversations in this novel once the young transplanted Englishman becomes involved in lengthy discussions with the Director of the Central London Hatchery.

Similarly, Huxley’s characters engage in philosophical discussions that no doubt reflect debates then underway in English intellectual circles. Maybe he just felt the need to show off. In any case, he wasn’t simply out to tell a story.

 

 

British satire about misfit spies in MI5

British satire Slow Horses (Slough House #1), by Mick Herron

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

The spies who work out of Slough House are “a post-useful crew of misfits [who] can be stored and left to gather dust.” Every one of them. MI5 has dumped them all there after they screwed up royally. Now they labor at menial tasks under the direction of a misanthropic ex-operative named Jackson Lamb. They’re called “Slow Horses,” which is the title of the first novel in this engaging and sometimes hilarious four-book series. Slow Horses is British satire of the first order. The victim is MI5.

Not yet thirty, River Cartwright is one of the youngest of the Slow Horses and one of the latest arrivals. He has been at Slough House for just four months. Even before completing his training, River managed to trigger a catastrophic terrorist attack in the London Underground. This resulted in “killing or maiming an estimated 120 people and causing 30m [pounds’] worth of actual damage, along with a projected 2.5 billion [pounds] in lost tourist revenue . . .” The fact that his training partner set him up hasn’t prevented River from being relegated to this contemporary version of purgatory. In fact, the only reason River hasn’t been fired outright is that his grandfather (the O.B., or Old Bastard) had retired from a senior position in MI5 and still has considerable influence in the agency.

It seems that nobody at Slough House likes anyone else. In fact, the hostility is palpable. Every one of the Slow Horses harbors a fantasy of getting back to work at Regent’s Park, MI5 headquarters—and seems to think that nobody else ever will. Actually, nobody ever has. They’re all expected to get bored and leave the service.

The Byzantine plot in Slow Horses begins to unfold when River is assigned to retrieve and comb through the garbage of a notorious, right-wing journalist. Every night. Meanwhile, River’s office-mate, Sid Baker (a woman) has been detailed to steal the journalist’s electronic files. Somehow, these two and all their colleagues at Slough House become embroiled in an extremely messy set of circumstances involving a young Pakistani student, three right-wing extremists, a cabinet minister, their superiors in MI5, and the aforementioned journalist. It’s a sorry tale full of suspense, and often a funny one.

The large cast of characters in Slow Horses illustrates the broad range of their incompetence. There’s “Lady Di,” Diane Taverner, who is the agency’s insufferably manipulative deputy director. Jackson Lamb runs Slough House from behind an upper-floor office door that never seems to open. Catherine Standish was the executive assistant to MI5’s managing director; she may have been involved somehow in his mysterious death. Min Harper left a computer disk containing classified information on a seat in the Underground and was moved to Slough House when the press published the embarrassing contents. Practically nobody knows what crimes or misdemeanors anyone else of these misfits may have committed. Except for Roderick Ho, a consummate computer hacker, who knows practically everyone else’s secret.

Appreciating British satire may require a perverse view of life and the world. Whatever it is, I’ve got it.

January 4, 2016

An irreligious take on Catholic history

Catholic history - the relic master - christopher buckleyThe Relic Master: A Novel, by Christopher Buckley

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

In an interview conducted by Deborah Solomon for the New York Times Magazine in 2008, Christopher Buckley engaged in this exchange:

[Your father] was a practicing Catholic. What are you? I am post-Catholic.

As opposed to a lapsed Catholic? I am probably more of a collapsed Catholic.

That’s about the size of it, to judge from Buckley’s latest satirical novel, The Relic Master. This diabolical tale is a send-up of the Catholic Church at what was probably the most unattractive period in its history. The dissolute scion of a notorious family, Lorenzo de’ Medici held forth in the Holy See as Pope Leo X, pursuing carnal pleasures and bankrupting the Vatican as a patron of the arts. He was perhaps the most corrupt and immoral in a long line of unspeakably awful Popes. In Wittenberg, in reaction to the excesses of Leo’s Church, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther began his campaign for reform. So went Catholic history.

A tale of the Reformation

In The Relic Master, Christopher Buckley spins a tale built around the historical figures who played key roles in the early days of the Reformation: not just Leo and Luther themselves, but also Johann Tetzel, the Dominican friar commissioned by the Pope to raise money for the construction of St. Peter’s Basilica; Tetzel’s greedy bishop, Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz; and Elector Frederick “the Wise” of Saxony. The brilliant German painter, Albrecht Durer, plays a major part in the story, too.

The plot is built around two historical artifacts that helped to define the Catholic Church of the era: the veneration of “relics” of the crucifixion of Jesus and the martyrdom of the saints, and the notoriously corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to credulous followers of the Church. By paying money to Tetzel (who split his take with Cardinal Albrecht), the ignorant believers of the era presumably were pardoned for a period of time in Purgatory, the more money they paid, the longer the period. Failing that, according to the Church, they would languish in Purgatory for hundreds of years.

The Relic Master in person

The protagonist, identified in the book’s title as the Relic Master, is Dismas, a former soldier of fortune turned relic-hunter. He pursues the choicest relics for his two principal clients, Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz and Frederick of Saxony. Frederick was nominally the more powerful of the two, because he held the powerful title of Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, one of a handful of officials who would choose the next Emperor. To help his clients continue to build their unparalleled collections of relics — each of them containing more than 10,000 items — Dismas scours Europe and the Middle East, stopping by “relic fairs” that are scenes of hilarity. All goes well until Dismas loses the fortune he has accumulated in a 16th-century version of a Ponzi scheme. His friend, the artist Albrecht Durer, persuades him to engage in an elaborate fraud against the Cardinal that will make them both rich. And that is the beginning of the end of the tale.

Where does satire come from?

By giving reality a few twists in one direction or another, satire makes us think. The Relic Master is a great case in point.

At this remove of five centuries, it’s difficult to understand how the people of the time could have been so colossally ignorant as to believe such nonsense. Yet, as I look around myself in the early 21st century, I can’t avoid thinking about today’s religious absurdities: the unfathomable violence of Muslim extremists, the irredentist absurdity that motivates ultra-Orthodox Jews, and the dogged insistence of fundamentalist Protestants in the literal truth of the Bible in the face of centuries of evidence to the contrary. Is there something in the nature of the human race that impels some of us to grasp so tightly onto such ridiculous fantasies? Sadly, it would appear so.

About the author

Christopher Buckley has long since managed to transcend his identity as the son of William F. Buckley, Jr., one of the founders of modern conservatism in America. Early in life, he became editor of Esquire magazine and shortly afterward a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. In addition to a number of nonfiction books and numerous contributions to magazines, he has written ten satirical novels, of which three have been produced as films.

I’ve read many of Buckley’s novels. My review of one is at Wondered where UFOs come from? Christopher Buckley has the answer. You’ll find another at Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley.

March 27, 2015

Political satire where it hurts the most: 10 Downing Street

Political satire shines in Head of State by Andrew Marr Head of State, by Andrew Marr

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If I were pitching this book in Hollywood, I might describe it as a mashup of “Wag the Dog” and the British version of “House of Cards.” This expertly crafted novel is a blend of absurd political satire and self-centered politics at its nastiest. The result is glorious.

Step forward to 2017, when Great Britain is sharply divided over whether to withdraw from the European Union or stay the course. It’s three days before the referendum that will make this historic decision — and the immensely popular Prime Minister, who supports the European connection, slumps over at his desk, dead.

What to do? If word gets out, the fateful decision will surely go against the government. How can the Prime Minister’s body even be hidden from the public? No worries. His faithful staff will solve the problem adroitly, with the help of a shadowy figure named Alois Haydn from the world of political PR who is a legendary expert in crisis management (though virtually unknown to the public). But can the man be trusted? Therein lies the rub.

A Keystone Kops-like series of events ensues, rife with confusion, murder, betrayal, love both requited and un, and political espionage. The narrative jumps from one day to the next, then back a day or two before moving forward in time again, giving rise to a mind-bending series of revelations. It’s a grand old mess, and extremely funny.

If there’s any point to all these shenanigans, it might be summed up in a monologue by Haydn that includes the following verdict: “The British think they’re democrats. But they’re only shoppers. They don’t vote very much, and they don’t think very much, either. Here the only people who count are the very rich, the people who can buy football teams and private jets and flash penthouses on the Thames.” Is that cynical enough for you?

The author, Andrew Marr, is in his own right a force to be reckoned with in British politics. He is best known for his Sunday-morning political interview show on BBC-TV and his Monday-morning show on BBC Radio, but he has written — and broadcast — several popular histories of Britain and the world as a whole. Previously, he was also editor of the Independent newspaper and political editor of the BBC. Head of State is his first novel.

March 20, 2014

Self-help gurus get their comeuppance from Christopher Buckley

Self-help gurusGod Is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth, by Christopher Buckley and John Tierney

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

At his best, Christopher Buckley writes breathtakingly hilarious novels. God Is My Broker is one of them.

However, if you’re a devotee of Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Dale Carnegie, or one of the many other high-profile self-help gurus who have streaked across the American firmament over the past century, you may not laugh. But who knows? Since Buckley (born a Catholic) takes on the Catholic Church with equal verve, you might enjoy the book, anyway.

In God Is My Broker, a certain Brother Ty has chucked a career on Wall Street — a singularly unsuccessful one, if the truth be told — and become a monk in an upstate New York monastery called Cana dedicated to the teachings of a masochistic saint. Unfortunately, Cana is on the ropes. Its source of revenue — sales of a uniquely awful wine called Cana Nouveau — has, shall we say, dried up. (Cana Nouveau is so bad that the Vatican blames a serious setback to the health of the Pope to a sampling of the stuff sent as a gift from Cana.) To reverse the monastery’s desperate financial troubles, Brother Ty decides to let God be his broker, looking for buy and sell signs in his breviary in combination with current business rumors. Meanwhile, the Abbot turns to Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins, and their brethren for guidance. The result of these twin devotional habits are the 7-1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth, which are conveniently spelled out as the story is told.

OK, so, you’ve gotta read it to make any sense of this proposition. And, unless you’re in thrall to a latter-day guru, you’ll probably enjoy it. A lot.

I’ve previously reviewed Buckley’s Little Green Men, Florence in Arabia, The White House Mess, and They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, which I regard as a true classic of political satire. Before starting this blog, I also read and enjoyed immensely two other Christopher Buckley novels: Boomsday and Thank You For Smoking, which is probably his best-known work because of the movie of the same name.

 

Washington, DC, served up on the skewer of satire

satire - This Town - Mark LeibovichThis Town: Two Parties and a Funeral—plus plenty of valet parking!—in America’s Gilded Capital, by Mark Leibovich

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

Here is Washington, DC, laid bare by the discerning eye and poison pen of The New York Times Magazine’s chief national correspondent there. If you think most of what takes place in the nation’s capital has little or nothing to do with anything outside the District of Columbia, well, it turns out you’re right.

“Getting rich has become the great bipartisan ideal,” writes Mark Leibovich. “’No Democrats and Republicans in Washington anymore, only millionaires,’ goes the maxim. The ultimate Green party. You still hear the term ‘public service’ thrown around, but often with irony and full knowledge that ‘self-service’ is now the real insider play.”

Never before, with the possible exception of Rome under the Emperor Nero or Paris under Louis XIV, have so many self-indulgent people come together in one place to flatter one another so effusively while concealing sharp knives in their purses or pockets. It’s a wonder, really, why Mark Leibovich still keeps his home there . . . unless, perhaps, Washington DC society isn’t quite so pathetically narcissistic as his book implies.

Leibovich has a wicked sense of humor and writes with flair and aplomb. This Town is a wonderfully entertaining takedown on life among the members of “The Club”—those five or ten or twenty thousand people who circle around the bright flame of transient fame and find themselves in the Oval Office, on TV, or simply invited to the right parties. These are the best-known members of the media, the top lobbyists, the White House staffers, the more prominent members of the Senate and House, and, of course, the women who host the parties where they all rub shoulders, political party affiliation be damned.

As Leibovich points out archly in brief digressions from the arc of his tale, real-life events outside the Beltway actually do take place from time to time—the killing of Osama bin Laden, for example, or the partisan gridlock on the Federal budget—but these occurrences apparently aren’t important enough to The Club to cause them to do something life-changing such as canceling the White House Correspondents Annual Gala Weekend. (It appears from This Town that the bin Laden operation was actually postponed by a day because White House staff suddenly remembered that the President would have to be at that dinner on its long-scheduled day.)

What you won’t find in This Town is any plausible explanation for why the US Government has become so dysfunctional. It’s a huge mistake, Leibovich implies, to explain Washington DC as a standoff between two bitterly opposed political parties. That misses the point “that the city, far from being hopelessly divided, is in fact hopelessly interconnected. It misses the degree to which New Media has democratized the political conversation while accentuating Washington’s insular, myopic, and self-loving tendencies. It misses, most of all, a full examination of how Washington may not serve the country well but has in fact worked splendidly for Washington itself—a city of beautifully busy people constantly writing the story of their own lives.”

To master such an inchoate mix of personalities, events, and fields of interest, Leibovich focuses his attention on certain key figures—people who may be virtually unknown to the rest of us but are objects of awe to the denizens of the District: “superlawyer” Bob Barnett, “superlobbyist” Jack Quinn, “superstaffer” Kurt Bardella, blogger Mike Allen (“’one of the defining journalists of this period’”), hostess Tammy Haddad, and a few others. Superlatives don’t suffice to describe the lofty achievements of these titans who roam so freely inside the Beltway.

You may not learn much about current affairs from reading This Town, but you’ll gain perspective on the insularity of life in our nation’s capital — and you’ll have a lot of fun along the way.

Washington and Beijing get what they deserve in this satirical novel

satirical novelThey Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, by Christopher Buckley

@@@@@ (5 out of 5)

Your name is Walter “Bird” McIntyre. You are the leading Washington lobbyist for Groepping-Sprunt, a major arms contractor for the Pentagon. A Senate committee is meeting to consider a huge appropriation for your latest weapons system — an ocean-liner-sized drone aircraft armed with every manner of destructive weaponry known to the military-industrial complex. Testifying on the company’s behalf will not be easy. “On top of the ‘funding factor’ (Washington-speak for ‘appalling cost overruns’), Bird and Groepping-Sprunt were up against a bit of a ‘perception problem’ (Washington-speak for ‘reality’).” After embarrassing you with hours of pointed questions, does the committee approve the appropriation? No, it does not. And that, for all intents and purposes, is where this tale begins.

With Bird’s job now on the line and the company’s future in doubt because of the huge sums poured into R&D for the oversized drone, Bird’s boss forces him to raise the stakes: find a way to gin up widespread public hatred for China and thus scare Congress into springing for some other overpriced weapons system. Enter Angel Templeton, a mashup of Ann Coulter and Mata Hari; Bird’s fetching young trophy wife, an equestrienne who is bankrupting him with her passion for thoroughbred horses; Bird’s feckless younger brother, Bewks, who wanders around Bird’s house in a Confederate general’s outfit, channeling George Armstrong Custer (sic!), ready for a reenactment of the battle of Gettysburg at a moment’s notice; Rogers P. Fancock, the Boston Brahmin who is reluctantly serving as National Security Advisor; and Chris Matthews of Hardball (yes, by name). Those are the key characters on the U.S. side. A similarly comical collection of Chinese players — mostly the members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party — rounds out the cast.

In between the two sides is the 14th Dalai Lama (yes, the current guy). You’ll have to read the book to find out how he gets into the story.

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is a satirical novel of the highest order. I found myself laughing hysterically, sometimes for pages at a time. But, like all superior satire, this book isn’t just funny — its droll treatment of politics in Washington and Beijing is spot-on accurate. For example, “Fancock scowled at the top-secret cable from the U.S. ambassador in Beijing alerting him to the development that had been announced on CNN twenty minutes before.”

Christopher Buckley knows whereof he writes. He is the son of the late William F. Buckley, Jr. and has held a number of positions in Washington, including a job as chief speechwriter for Vice President George  H. W. Bush. (I will forgive him for all that.) They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is Buckley’s ninth satirical novel. He has also written several other books, including two travelogues and a biographal portrayal of his parents.

For another of Buckley’s hilarious satirical novels see Ever wondered where those UFOs come from? Christopher Buckley has the answer.

Alligators, pythons, and vampires in the Everglades

Set in the Everglades, Chomp by Carl Hiaasen

Chomp, by Carl Hiaasen

@@@ (3 out of 5)

They’re maybe 14 years old. His name is Wahoo; he was named after the wrestler, not the fish. Hers is Tuna. Yes, the fish. So, they decide to call each other Lance and Lucille.

They live in the Everglades.

His father is an animal wrangler who supplies docile animals to TV survivalist shows that purport to show men wrestling with alligators or snakes. Hers is a drunken bum who drove her mother away to Chicago and now beats her instead of her mother.

They spend a lot of time together, but they are NOT boyfriend and girlfriend.

Now, are you getting the impression that this cockamamie story is a book for young readers?

Welcome to the world of Carl Hiaasen, a long-time columnist for the Miami Herald who has written some of the funniest novels ever on environmental themes. His adult books — there are 16 of them — are all set in Florida. As Wikipedia notes, “Hiaasen’s Florida is a hive of greedy businessmen, corrupt politicians, dumb blondes, apathetic retirees, intellectually challenged tourists, hard-luck redneck cooters, and militant ecoteurs.” That “militant ecoteur,” by the way, is a deranged ex-Governor who walked out of the capital one day long ago and went feral. He now holes up in the Everglades, eating what he can scavenge or kill and ever vigilant to threats to its flora and fauna.

Chomp is one of Hiaasen’s four novels for young adults. Like his grown-up books, Chomp is chiefly a satire, with the environment as the beneficiary. Here, the brunt of Hiaasen’s wit is Derek Badger (“NOT Beaver”), the star of a wildly popular TV show featuring him in constant danger in the wilderness from man-eating beasts. However, as Wahoo and Tuna soon learn once Badger hires Wahoo’s father for a show in the Everglades, Badger is nothing of the sort, since every encounter on his show is carefully scripted and contrived, with little or no danger to the star. The REAL danger comes from Tuna’s gun-wielding father.

As a long-time fan of Hiaasen’s adult novels, I unknowingly picked up Chomp expecting more of the same. From the outset, though, the book seemed a little simple-minded, and the humor even broader and more obvious than I’d expected. I wasn’t aware that I failed to qualify as an intended reader. Still, the book was amusing, the characters rooted in a true if cockeyed version of reality, and the plot was rich. No reader should be surprised to learn that alligators, pythons, would-be vampires, and gun-wielding drunks turn up in this story, not to mention a hedonistic Hollywood producer.

Unfortunately, the feral ex-Governor is nowhere to be found in Chomp. I missed him.