When our culture and government and so much else is ripe for satire, why aren’t there more writers like Christopher Buckley around?
Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley, begins like many of his other books: with an actual, real-life problem that seems insoluble. In this case, America is experience stagflation at a time when a significant portion of its citizens–the Boomer Generation–are set to retire. Social Security won’t last, and someone needs to pay for retirement benefits. But then Buckley takes things further. The protagonist, Cassandra Devine, argues on her blog for unspecified actions when Congress proposes an increase to the payroll taxes of Americas below 30. The next thing anyone knows, young people are attacking gated communities and golf courses.
The book really kicks off when Cass is arrested for “inciting violence.” She becomes the voice of her generation, blogging away about how unfair the whole situation is. Then, she has a crazy idea. Taking a cue from Jonathan Swift, Cass drafts her own “Modest Proposal“–calling for retirees to voluntarily commit suicide at age 70 to spare their descendants the cost of funding their retirement. It’s not meant to be taken seriously. Cass’ proposal is just supposed to put the issue on the table for serious discussion. Of course, in Buckley’s slightly warped version of America, most people are seriously satire- and sarcasm-impaired. Cass’ proposal starts to develop actual legs when an old acquaintance, a senator, decides to push the bill as though it was a real solution to the Social Security crisis.
Things rapidly get out of hand. (As if they weren’t already.) The president’s office starts paying dirty pool in trying to make Cass shut up and go away. The senator decides he might want to parlay his new found notoriety into a presidential run. A pro-life senator and head of the hilariously named pro-life lobby SPERM (Society for the Protection of Every Ribonucleic Molecule) gets involved to oppose Cass before deciding that he wants to run for president, too. It’s a tangled, tangled web, full of highly sarcastic political speechifying using remixed rhetoric, bons mots, and pithy wit.
I think its fair, in this book’s case, to talk about the ending. If you don’t want to know. Stop here before I spoil things for you. Otherwise, this is the end of the post for you. If you want to stick around, there’s just one more paragraph.
Still here? Good. The truth is that this book doesn’t really have an ending. Boomsday doesn’t have a cliffhanger either. Buckley has written himself into corners before, but in his other books, he writes himself back out again. In this book, he doesn’t do that. The book ends with the status quo being somewhat reestablished. It’s as though everyone has gotten their anger off their chests and is ready to (maybe) buckle down and do some real work. We all knew, characters and readers alike, that the proposal wouldn’t ever actually happen. But the end feels like a cop out when Buckley stops his satire train so far away from the metaphorical cliff.