The Queue, by Basma Abdel Aziz

The Queue
The Queue

The government of an unnamed country has come to a complete standstill in Basma Abdel Aziz’s The Queue (skillfully translated by Elisabeth Jacquette). Since the Disgraceful Events a few months prior, new laws and procedures come out daily, requiring citizens to get approval for everything. In the case of Yehya, that means getting approval for surgery to remove a bullet in his abdomen. Yehya was shot during the Disgraceful Events by government soldiers but, officially, that never happened. Now he is stuck in an endless wait at the Gate with thousands of other citizens. The Gate has been closed since the Events. Without approval from the Gate, however, no one can get their required approvals. What can anyone do but wait and hope the Gate reopens? What can Yehya do but hope he will get his approval before the bullet finishes killing him?

The Queue evokes Kafka’s The Trial in more than one way. The bureaucracy rules everything, but no one seems to be in charge. All forward progress has been halted and everyone is an endless waiting game. Over the course of the novel, we see get to know several other citizens who have been caught in the queue at the Gate. Ines is hoping for a Certificate of True Citizenship so that she can get her teaching job back after a student wrote a criticism of the government. Shalaby is there to make sure his cousin’s family gets their pension and have his cousin recognized as a martyr. Um Mabrouk is in the queue to get approval for her daughter’s surgery. Ehab, a journalist, is there to record people’s stories and share news.

As the days pass and the characters settle into their places in the queue, we learn more about how the Gate is rewriting history. It seems that the authorities (whoever they are) don’t want word getting out that its troops shot people during the Disgraceful Events, that unemployment is skyrocketing, that the government-subsidized phones are tapped, or that the Gate might never reopen.Worse, however, are the hints that the Gate is far more technologically sophisticated than one might think. Citizens discover that their conversations are being recorded even when their phones are turned off. A doctor finds that the patient records locked in his office are being updated over night. On top of it all, the government newspaper prints new versions of the recent past so often that some of the characters, like Ines, start to wonder if their own memories can be trusted. I was reminded more than once of the old Soviet joke: there is no pravda [truth] in Pravda [the newspaper].

In the middle of this bureaucratic nightmare is Yehya. He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time when he was shot. He was not a government supporter or a rebel, but the laws and regulations and requirements have conspired to prevent him from having his surgery. He waits in the queue, slowly dying, while his girlfriend and friends and the doctor who initially treated him try to find a way to help. The hope that someone would succeed kept me reading and I won’t ruin the book by saying here if my hope was satisfied or not.

The Queue, while a little heavy-handed at times, is a brilliant satire on the deadly absurdity of a totalitarian government that wants complete control over information. The citizens in the queue are perfectly ordinary. None of them are dissidents. Yet they are spied on and tied up with so much red tape that they can’t move on with their lives. The tension in the book got me so wound up that I wanted to shout at the characters that it wasn’t worth it, that they should rise up against whoever was in charge. Rebellion is impossible, it seems, when everyone is locked into their own private struggle.

I received a free copy of this book from Edelweiss for review consideration. It will be released 24 May 2016.

 

Three short epilogues by Jesse Baruffi

After I read (and gushed about) Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves by Jesse Baruffi, the published sent me copies of the three epilogues that follow the novel and wrap up a some loose ends. While they don’t directly feature the lead, they give us another taste of the bonkers world of villains and dastardly plots and twine that Baruffi created.

Requiem for a Twine
Requiem for a Twine

Requiem for a Twine: The destruction of the world’s largest ball of twine (created from the previous largest balls of twine) was Otto von Trapezoid’s first salvo in his recent attempt to take over the world. Now the owners of that ball of twine are hosting Twine Aid, to raise money to rebuilt their tourist attraction. Everything is going according to plan until the current owner decides to abscond with the takings. Then everything gets weird. Really weird.

The Talking Skull of Teddy Roosevelt: This epilogue is written in the style of old sponsored adventure stories. The narrative—featuring the actual talking skull of Teddy Roosevelt versus the Mummified Arm of Joseph Stalin—is frequently interrupted to encourage readers to send in cereal box tops and their financial information. This epilogue is pure silliness.

Marooned: This is the longest of the three epilogues and shows us what happened to Otto’s old poker “buddies” after they tried to turn in Otto and Esmerelda for the reward. They’re on their way to a distant planet with no hope of escape. Only the arrival of the ghost of Halloween Girl breaks up the monotony of playing poker for extra rations.

I finished Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves with a strong desire for more. The epilogues help (a bit) with that. Write faster, Baruffi.

I received a free copy of these short stories from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves, by Jesse Baruffi

Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves
Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves

After the emotional pummeling I took from Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life, I needed something light and funny. Otto von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves, by Jesse Baruffi, was just what the bibliotherapist would have ordered. This supervillain romance has: sentient and not-so-sentient robots, an indestructible super spy, poison, airships, family snark, thefts of entire museums, and much, much more! And, unlike most superhero/villain satires, the one has emotional depth enough to keep the whole lot from collapsing under its own silly weight.

Otto von Trapezoid, who attempts to take over the world from his orbital station the Quadrilateral of Doom, is a socially maladjusted genius who has just met his match. Esmerelda Santa Monica is the eponymous Empress of Thieves. On the day she steals the entire Louvre, Otto has perfected his doomsday weapon. They both hack into the UN’s announcement system to reveal their plans for the world. At the same time. Their squabbling ruins their plans and they each swear revenge on each other. Funny enough, they each independently hatch the same plan to kill the other. Esmerelda plans to seduce Otto and then kill him. Otto dusts off an old dating advice book from the 1930s and pomades his hair to seduce Esmerelda before killing her.

When they actually meet, the realize they have more in common than they realized. Their first date is accompanied by explosions, floods, and a mechanical T-Rex. Otto’s sincerity appeals to Esmerelda’s jaded sensibility. Her emotional savvy is just the thing Otto has been missing in his life. Together, they are the perfect team, if only they can keep Jake Indestructible at bay.

Baruffi pulls out every superhero/villain trope from the playbook and manages to make them all work in this book. I would have marveled, but I was too busy laughing at the antics of Otto, Esmerelda, and their various allies and enemies. I really hope there are sequels.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. 

The Vatican Cellars, by André Gide

The Vatican Cellars
The Vatican Cellars

Why do we behave the way that we do? Psychologists would argue about nature versus nurture, but they rarely go so far as to talk about the ongoing pressures that family and society and law and religion and culture have on us as adults. André Gide’s The Vatican Cellars (translated by Julian Evans), originally published in 1914, is an exploration of that very question. The exploration, however, is the subtext to a strange and funny tale of atheists who find faith, pietists flirting with atheism, con men, nihilism, misguided love—and family.

I picked this book up because the description mentioned a pope being kidnapped and farce. I don’t think I read anything else about The Vatican Cellars on the NetGalley cite before I hit the request button. A casual reader wouldn’t expect anything like this from the first chapters of this brief book. According to the note at the end of the book, Gide didn’t consider The Vatican Cellars a novel. He called it a sotie:

A sotie (or sottie) is a short satirical play common in 15th- and 16th-century in France. The word (compare modern sottise) comes from the sots, “fools”, who appeared as characters in the play. (Wikipedia)

In those first chapters, we are introduced to Anthime and his wife, Véronique, his brother-in-law and sister-in-law. Anthime is a staunch, combative atheist. He drives his wife crazy with his cruel experiments on animals and his constant antagonism towards the rest of the family’s faith. One night, after damaging a statue of the Virgin Mary, Anthime has a vision and wakes up cured of the pain in his leg. Anthime immediately converts, becoming so saint-like that it annoys his family even more than his atheism. After these chapters, Gide detours into the tale of the brother-in-law, Julius de Baraglioul, and Julius’ previously unknown illegitimate half-brother, Lafcladio Wluiki. While Julius is very proper and highly conscientious of his family’s reputation, Lafcadio is almost the prototypical nihilist.

As we learn more of Lafcadio’s debauched youth and his lack of empathy to pretty much everyone in his life, the story shifts again to yet another member of Julius’ tangled family. Julius sister, a comtesse, is taken in by a scam artist. The note at the end of the book reports an actual scam that occurred in 1892 that inspired Gide. Con men would dress as priests and target credulous and deeply devout rich people by asking for money to free the pope, who they said had been kidnapped. If word got out, the con men said, Catholicism would collapse. One of Lafcadio’s childhood friends, Protos, is deeply involved in running the con. There are coincidences everywhere in The Vatican Cellars. They are used to great effect to gaslight some of the characters into believing that there really is a vast conspiracy involving the pope.

I get the impression that The Vatican Cellars would make more sense to someone reading in 1914. The antagonisms hinted at between the Catholic Church and the Freemasons. Lafcadio’s character would probably make more sense before the creation of existentialism, when nihilism and the will to power and traditional values did battle for people’s souls. Still, Gide’s subtle, snarky humor had me very entertained, even though many of the characters do completely depraved things. I understand why Gide was such a controversial author in his time.

 

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. 

The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn, by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky

The Dead Mountaineer's Inn
The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn

These days, my favorite genre books are the ones that don’t fit neatly into any genre. Most of the genre-benders I’ve read, however, blend their tropes together and smooth over any friction. Boris and Arkady Strugatsky’s The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn: One More Last Right for the Detective Genre does not do that. Rather, the mystery genre and the science fiction genre seem to be at war with each other. The conflict jars, but it’s supposed to be jarring. It’s jarring to protagonist Inspector Peter Glebsky, who thought he was investigating a closed room mystery only to find himself in the middle of a bizarre science fiction escapade. The really weird thing about this book is that it all works.

Boris and Arkady Strugatsky are not well known outside of Russia, except by connoisseurs of Golden Age science fiction in translation. I only recently found out about the brothers because their books—considered classics in Russia—are being re-translated and re-published in English. Ezra Glinter recently published an essay-cum-review of the Strugatskys and The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn for The Paris Review. Glinter remarks:

The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn departs from anything that either detective or reader could deduce. For the Strugatskys, the deviation was practically involuntary. In his 1999 memoir, Comments on the Way Left Behind, Boris Strugatsky writes that they intended to write a commercial mystery novel along the lines of Erle Stanley Gardner or John le Carré. But they were unable to resist their speculative impulses: in place of a clever solution for the events at the inn, they introduced a bigger mystery.

Jeff VanderMeer—a leading light in the New Weird genre—makes similar comments in his introduction to this edition of The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn. VanderMeer writes, “they strove to create a narrative that, underneath its seeming whimsy, would be “paradoxical,” complete with an unexpected twist” (Introduction*).

This is pretty much what happens with The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn. The novel begins has a (fairly) straightforward mystery. Peter Glebsky, police inspector and bureaucrat, arrives at the eponymous inn in an unnamed country for a two week vacation. He is looking forward to relaxing, being away from all the cares of his job and his family. The other guests of the inn and its owner, unfortunately for Glebsky, are the strangest pack of weirdos and eccentrics he’s ever met. Then there’s an avalanche and a guest turns up with a broken neck in a room locked from the inside.

Although he’d rather wait for the local police to deal with it, Glebsky is pushed into investigating what happened to the goliath Olaf Andvarafors. Like any good inspector, Glebsky begins by establishing timelines and questioning alibis—much to the annoyance of the other guests. Clues abound, but none of them makes sense. Just as Glebsky thinks he knows what happened and why, something else will turn up that doesn’t fit or completely destroys the inspector’s theories. The owner of the inn, who has his own explanations, comments, “You’re following the most natural roads, and for that reason you’ve ended up in unnatural places” (147).

The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn takes place over the course of just a few days. But in the course of those few days, things get incredibly weird. Soon the physicist staying at the hotel confronts Glebsky with his version of events: “Things are quite a bit more complicated than you think, Inspector” (213). When Glebsky objects, the physicist soothes him by saying, “No ghouls. No mumbo-jumbo. Just solid science fiction” (214). And the physicist, against all odds, is correct. Glebsky is not in a mystery story: he’s landed smack in the middle of science fiction. For once, Sherlock Holmes’ maxim about eliminating the impossible is wrong.

Though this synopsis no doubt makes the The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn sound bewildering, it’s a hilarious read (in a Russian kind of way). The humor tends very much towards the absurd and satirical, and I found myself laughing more than once at exchanges like this one after the avalanche. Glebsky is quizzing the inn’s owner about supplies:

“How about fuel? I asked.

“There’s always my perpetual motion machines.”

“Hmm…” I said. “Are they made of wood?” (81)

Towards the end of the novel, as the weirdness finally wears Glebsky down enough to consider the possibility of shape-changing aliens, robots, and gangsters, he comments, “I’m just a police officer. I don’t have clearance to carry on conversations with ghouls and aliens” (222).

The humor in The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn is very different from anything else I’ve encountered in Russian literature outside of Gogol. It is not like the gallows humor that Ian Frazier describes in his essay for The New York Review of Books about Russian absurdist Daniil Kharms. Frazier declares, “Russian humor is to ordinary humor what backwoods fundamentalist poisonous snake handling is to a petting zoo. Russian humor is slapstick, only you actually die.” There’s something delightfully frivolous about the Strugatsky brothers’ work.

I’m grateful to publishing houses like Melville House for rescuing books like The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn from obscurity. This book is as fresh and strange as it was in 1970.


* Quotes from The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn are from the 2015 kindle edition by Melville House, translated from the Russian by Josh Billings.

 

The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton

184419After 107 years, satires are hard to fully understand. A reader might be able to figure out the target of the satire, but the details are harder to pin down. Was this reference to someone’s clothes a shot at some political figure of the time? Was this snatch of Latin a sneer at an academic or clergyman? I felt this way for much of G.K. Chesterton’s twistedly humorous novella, The Man Who Was Thursday. I think I understand it, but I know that a lot of it was lost on me.

Anarchists were the bogeyman of the turn of the twentieth century. Assassinations and assassination attempts were rife. Bombs were being lobbed all over Europe and America—or so it seemed to the middle and upper classes. Our protagonist—not to say hero—is Syme. Syme is the child of radicals and so rebelled by becoming a conformist. He sees disorder and anarchy all around him, but despairs of being able to to anything about it until he meets a policeman who tells him of a special anti-anarchist squad in the police. Syme is immediately recruited and sent off to find some anarchists. He succeeds beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. After only a few days on the job, he finds himself elected to an international council of anarchists.

Syme sweats bullets at the first meeting of seven leading anarchists, all code-named after days of the week. (Syme is Thursday.) Then the president reveals that one of their number is actually a police spy. Over the course of the novella, more and more of the “anarchists” are also uncovered as police operatives. The Man Who Was Thursday grows increasingly absurd as identities are discovered, operatives chase and duel each other in France, and finally confront Sunday—the man behind it all.

At the end, Chesterton pulls one more twist out of his pen and turns the book on its head. And this is where he lost me. I could believe The Man Who Was Thursday as a satirical take on the overblown fear of anarchists. Chesterton had me laughing out loud at the outrageously polite things his characters would say:

“My God!” said the Colonel, “someone has shot at us.”
“It need not interrupt conversation,” said the gloomy Ratcliffe. (Chapter XII*)

I was reminded of Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome more than once. Syme and his putative allies are hunting anarchists, but that’s no reason to let standards slip.

The end of the book, however, just doesn’t fit. This is the part of the review where I spoil a novel published in 1908. Syme and the gang track Sunday, the president of the anarchists**, to the man’s country house. Monday through Saturday are dressed up in allegorical costumes matching their code-names to the days of creation. Chesterton pulls back the curtain further to reveal that Sunday is a stand-in for god, the police operatives represent the various ways humans seek truth (science, poetry, etc.), and that the only real anarchist in the book is Lucifer in the guise of a Bohemian poet.

As I read the last two chapters of The Man Who Was Thursday, I resented the authorial intrusion in what I was enjoying as a cutting satire of political hysteria. I rolled my eyes more than once as Sunday—sounding an awful lot like Chesterton—drew all the parallels that transformed the story into just one more Christian allegory. Like C.S. Lewis would later on with The Chronicles of Narnia, Chesterton starts to beat his readers about the head with a metaphorical 2×4.

It’s books like The Man Who Was Thursday that make me wish I was in the editorial room before the book was published, so that I could try and talk the author out of ruining their book. Readers, read this book for the first thirteen chapters, then stop. Pretend the last two chapters never happened.


* Quotes from the Project Gutenberg edition of The Man Who Was Thursday.
** Yes, president. The anarchists in this novella are surprisingly regimented and organized.

The Mangle Street Murders, by M.R.C. Kasasian

18299587One of the dangers of becoming an established genre is that it makes parody possible. All anyone has to do is exaggerate the genre’s characteristics a little more and bam! Comedy. I’m sure parody is a stage in the life cycle of a genre on some chart somewhere. M.R.C. Kasasian’s The Mangle Street Murders, the first in the Gower Detective series, is one of the best parodies of the detective genre that I’ve read in a long time.

Sydney Grice is known across London as its greatest private detective. (Though he will angrily point out that he’s a personal, not private, detective.) He’s also eccentric, rude, callous, and more concerned with money than justice. Our narrator, March Middleton, rapidly learns all about his character flaws when she comes to live with him after the death of her father. Grice is clearly modeled on Sherlock Holmes—though he’s even ruder than his inspiration, if you can believe it. He can tell who and what you are based on the tiniest of clues. March is no slouch at detecting either, though she is much more trusting than the cynical detective.

Their first case arrives in the black-clad form of Grace Dillinger. Her son in law has been accused of brutally murdering his wife. March convinces Grice to take on the case, even though Grace can’t afford to pay him. March then pushes her way into the investigation, with every male trying to tell her its no place for a woman. As a doctor’s daughter, she’s no stranger to gore. March and Grice question William Ashby, the accused murderer. March is convinced that such a gentle man couldn’t have murdered anyone. Grice is firmly convinced that Ashby is a murderer. The evidence against the man is damning, but there are inconsistencies. In 1881 (or thereabouts), forensic science is in its infancy and, with Grice pushing, Ashby goes to trial and is quickly convicted of murder.

This isn’t a spoiler. All this plot happens in the first third of the book. The Mangle Street Murders has a rapid pace. The hanging of William Ashby is really just the beginning. After his execution, March turns up more troubling information about the Ashbys and Grace Dillinger. Grice only gets involved after his impeccable reputation is questioned. Kasasian slowly reveals that the murder of Sarah Ashby was just the tip of the iceberg in a bigger criminal conspiracy.

The Mangle Street Murders, though the plot sounds grim, is peppered with jokes about the detective genre and its history. If you’re paying attention, you’ll catch on and end up laughing in the middle of an autopsy or crime scene reconstruction. Meanwhile, Kasasian is turning the stereotypes of the Great Detective inside out. I was expecting an interesting puzzler, but I got a lot more from this book.

Day of the Oprichnik, by Vladimir Sorokin

9479238No one has ever described Russia so well as Winston Churchill: “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” I thought I was beginning to understand it after reading Russka, by Edward Rutherfurd, but Vladimir Sorokin’s Day of the Oprichnik has sent me right back into uneasy befuddlement. How can a culture be capable of so much beauty and so much violence?

Sorokin sets his satire 14 years from now, in a Russia that has only ever seen turmoil. That much doesn’t change. Everything else is not so much different as it is a return to how Russia was run before the Bolshevik Revolution. Our protagonist (not to say hero), Andrey Daniilovich Kamiaga, is one of the new oprichnina. An oprichnik is a police officer with nearly limitless power to enforce the laws and policies of the czar. Within the first few hours of Kamiaga’s day, he oversees the arrest of a disgraced nobleman, rapes the nobleman’s wife, and burns his house down. Then Kamiaga is sent to oversee a new performance piece to make sure that it’s not seditious. The music and lyrics move him to tears, they’re so beautiful.

As Kamiaga’s long day rolls along, we see him righteously committing acts of corruption and violence. Everything thing he does is wrapped in the trappings of the Russian monarchy and the Russian Orthodox Church. Well, to be more honest, the monarchy and church are exaggerated recreations of what those institutions were like before 1917. Nostalgia is always a skewed version of what was. I wish I could say that about how Sorokin portrayed the oprichnina; they’re not much different that how Ivan Grozny set them up.

The title and structure of this novella harks back to the classic One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. This is almost an inversion of Ivan Denisovich. By the end of Solzhenitsyn’s novella, you ache with sympathy and quiver with indignation on Ivan Denisovich’s behalf as he is crushed beneath the insane will of his country’s government. By the end of Day of the Oprichnik, your stomach will turn at how someone can abuse his fellow citizens with impunity, believing that he’s doing the right thing. This is a hard book to read. But then, the best satires always are.

Boomsday, by Christopher Buckley

When our culture and government and so much else is ripe for satire, why aren’t there more writers like Christopher Buckley around?

213387Boomsday, 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.

Supreme Courtship, by Christopher Buckley

3288096There’s a great quote in this book, just past the halfway point, that sums up the entire message. Roughly paraphrased, Americans seem to want things both ways. We want social programs but don’t want to pay for them. We want our government powerful, but not too powerful, etc. etc. The main crux of this novel is a constitutional crisis that you can see a mile off, though its very hard to see how everyone is going to get out of it. Supreme Courtship isn’t Christopher Buckley’s best book, but it’s still a fun read and it still does a great job of skewering our American absurdities.

Everyone who has paid any attention to politics in the last, oh, thirty years or so is well aware that supreme court nominations are contentions. Buckley takes them to new heights when one of the fictional president’s nominees is dismissed because he didn’t like To Kill a Mockingbird when he was young. The president, Donald Vandercamp gets so pissed off with the head of Senate Judicial Committee (who nixed two very good candidates) that he nominated the highly popular TV judge, Pepper Cartwright. After the nomination process, things cool off until later in the book when the constitutional crisis crops up.

The head of the Judicial Committee has dreams of being president himself and manages to get a Constitutional Amendment that limits the president to a single term. Vandercamp’s habit of vetoing any legislation that proposes new spending has pissed off a lot of representatives and brought to a halt the entire pork barrel system. But Vandercamp runs* for president and wins. Of course it results on a lawsuit. And of course the case ends up in front of the Supreme Court. So what can the justices do? On the one hand, they have to uphold the Constitution. But on the other hand, might the will of the people in the form of an election (with a clear winner) actually be the higher law? And, of course, it comes down to the deciding vote of the newest Supreme Court justice.

Supreme Courtship doesn’t hit as hard as the other Buckley novels I’ve read. It’s almost as if Buckley pulled his punches toward the end because this book could have been a lot snarkier. I wish that he had spent more time examine the conflict between the Amendment and the election. It highlights the disconnect I see between what legislators get up to and what the actual will of the people is. (It’s a little weird to call them the people. It sounds like it should be capitalized like the Communists used to do). I mean, most of the people I know don’t think profiling is a good idea and don’t support measures like Arizona passed last year. Most of the people I know think gay people should be allowed to get married. Most people I know think that women should have control of their own bodies when it comes to medical decisions. That’s the sort of thing we need satire about because someone has to point out the stupidity of it all.

* He does it on principle. But since he doesn’t participate in debates or campaigning or any of that, it’s hard to say he actually “runs” for president.