Thanks to Hollywood and writers like Christopher Buckley, America has given the world a brand-new literary form: the revenge comedy. In the movies, maverick cops roam the world, taking names, kicking butts, and making wisecracks. For all the gore, pictures like Die Hard are essentially Road Runner cartoons with superior special effects. Audiences do more chuckling than gasping. Now comes former George Bush speechwriter Christopher Buckley with a novelized version.
Even though Wet Work isn't a movie yet, we're still talking extremely high concept: Lethal Weapon 2 meets The Emerald Forest, complete with nubile Amazonian love slaves flitting naked through the rain forest. But the real innovation in Buckley's work is sociological. Instead of an impertinent working stiff like your typical Mel Gibson-Bruce Willis-Michael Douglas character, Wet Work gives us a maverick plutocrat: a self-made billionaire defense contractor and friend of the President named Charley Becker.
In addition to his finely engraved Purdy shotgun, Becker owns a custom- built yacht in the destroyer class equipped with an assault helicopter, manned by a trio of retired CIA killers named McNamara, Rostow, and Bundy, and decorated with original paintings by Manet. In the words of one of the archetypal fumbling bureaucrats who plays the inevitable foil, Charley Becker is ''the Rich Man's Bernhard Goetz.''
It may bear mentioning that Buckley – whose previous novel, The White House Mess, was praised by many for its satire – is the son of the prolific conservative columnist and novelist William F. Also that the yacht, according to the acknowledgments page, is based on one owned by the late Malcolm Forbes and upon which the author once journeyed up the Amazon.
As one would expect of such a concoction, Wet Work's plot moves smartly and preposterously along. First comes the obligatory death of an innocent, in this case Becker's beloved granddaughter, Natasha. Before her performance in an Off Broadway play about junkies, she succumbs to cardiac arrest after snorting cocaine furnished in the interest of realism by the director, who is also her lover. Finding the NYPD uninterested in solving the crime, Becker hires professional help and begins ''working [his] way up the food chain,'' from the cowardly director to his supplier, to the Miami importer to the dissolute Peruvian gangster – a left-winger, naturally – who set up the jungle lab that manufactured the stuff.
At each step, in accordance with the iron laws of revenge comedy, the villains grow more villainous, the body count gets higher, the explosions get exponentially bigger, and Buckley's jokey, hyperbolic style becomes progressively more out of kilter. Caught in the open in a firefight, our hero feels ''as exposed as a referee at a tennis match, and surrounded by McEnroes with machine pistols.'' For all of Buckley's manic wit, it's these sorts of equations that don't quite work.
"Nick Naylor had been called many things since becoming chief spokesman for the Academy of Tobacco Studies. But until now no one had actually compared him to Satan." They might as well have, though. "Gucci Goebbels," "yuppie Mephistopheles," and "death merchant" are just a few endearments Naylor has earned himself as the tobacco lobby's premier spin doctor. The hero of Thank You for Smoking does of course have his fans. His arguments against the neo-puritanical antismoking trends of the '90s have made him a repeat guest on Larry King, and the granddaddy of Winston-Salem wants him to be the anointed heir. Still, his newfound notoriety has unleashed a deluge of death threats. Christopher Buckley's satirical gift shines in this hilarious look at the ironies of "personal freedom" and the unbearable smugness of political correctness. Bracing in its cynicism, Thank You for Smoking is a delightful meander off the beaten path of mainstream American ethics. And despite his hypertension-inducing, slander-splattered, morally bankrupt behavior-which leads one Larry King listener to describe him as "lower than whale crap"-you'll find yourself rooting for smoking's mass enabler. -Rebekah Warren
In bestselling author Christopher Buckley's hilarious novel, the President of the United States, ticked off at the Senate for rejecting his nominees, decides to get even by nominating America 's most popular TV judge to the Supreme Court.
President Donald Vanderdamp is having a hell of a time getting his nominees onto the Supreme Court. After one nominee is rejected for insufficiently appreciating To Kill a Mockingbird, the president chooses someone so beloved by voters that the Senate won't have the nerve to reject her-Judge Pepper Cartwright, star of the nation's most popular reality show. Will Pepper, a vivacious Texan, survive a Senate confirmation battle? Will becoming one of the most powerful women in the world ruin her love life? Soon, Pepper finds herself in the middle of a constitutional crisis, a presidential reelection campaign that the president is determined to lose, and oral arguments of a romantic nature. Supreme Courtship is another classic Christopher Buckley comedy about the Washington institutions most deserving of ridicule.
From The Washington Post
Reviewed by Judy Budnitz
Does government-sanctioned suicide offer the same potential for satire as, say, the consumption of children? Possibly. One need only look to Kurt Vonnegut's story "Welcome to the Monkey House," with its "Federal Ethical Suicide Parlors" staffed by Juno-esque hostesses in purple body stockings. Or the recent film "Children of Men," in which television commercials for a suicide drug mimic, to an unsettling degree, the sunsets-and-soothing-voices style of real pharmaceutical ads. Now, Christopher Buckley ventures into a not-too-distant future to engage the subject in his new novel, Boomsday.
Here's the set-up: One generation is pitted against another in the shadow of a Social Security crisis. Our protagonist, Cassandra Devine, is a 29-year-old public relations maven by day, angry blogger by night. Incensed by the financial burden soon to be placed on her age bracket by baby boomers approaching retirement, she proposes on her blog that boomers be encouraged to commit suicide. Cassandra insists that her proposal is not meant to be taken literally; it is merely a "meta-issue" intended to spark discussion and a search for real solutions. But the idea is taken up by an attention-seeking senator, Randy Jepperson, and the political spinning begins.
Soon Cassandra and her boss, Terry Tucker, are devising incentives for the plan (no estate tax, free Botox), an evangelical pro-life activist is grabbing the opposing position, the president is appointing a special commission to study the issue, the media is in a frenzy, and Cassandra is a hero. As a presidential election approaches, the political shenanigans escalate and the subplots multiply: There are nursing-home conspiracies, Russian prostitutes, Ivy League bribes, papal phone calls and more.
Buckley orchestrates all these characters and complications with ease. He has a well-honed talent for quippy dialogue and an insider's familiarity with the way spin doctors manipulate language. It's queasily enjoyable to watch his characters concocting doublespeak to combat every turn of events. "Voluntary Transitioning" is Cassandra's euphemism for suicide; "Resource hogs" and "Wrinklies" are her labels for the soon-to-retire. The opposition dubs her "Joan of Dark."
It's all extremely entertaining, if not exactly subtle. The president, Riley Peacham, is "haunted by the homophonic possibilities of his surname." Jokes are repeated and repeated; symbols stand up and identify themselves. Here's Cassandra on the original Cassandra: "Daughter of the king of Troy. She warned that the city would fall to the Greeks. They ignored her… Cassandra is sort of a metaphor for catastrophe prediction. This is me. It's what I do." By the time Cassandra asks Terry, "Did you ever read Jonathan Swift's 'A Modest Proposal'?" some readers may be crying, "O.K., O.K., I get it."
Younger readers, meanwhile, may find themselves muttering, "He doesn't get it." The depiction of 20-somethings here often rings hollow, relying as it does on the most obvious signifiers: iPods, videogames, skateboards and an apathetic rallying cry of "whatever."
But Buckley isn't singling out the younger generation. He's democratic in his derision: boomers, politicians, the media, the public relations business, the Christian right and the Catholic Church get equal treatment. Yet despite the abundance of targets and the considerable display of wit, the satire here is not angry enough – not Swiftian enough – to elicit shock or provoke reflection; it's simply funny. All the drama takes place in a bubble of elitism, open only to power players – software billionaires, politicians, lobbyists, religious leaders. The general population is kept discretely offstage. Even the two groups at the center of the debate are reduced to polling statistics. There are secondhand reports of them acting en masse: 20-somethings attacking retirement-community golf courses, boomers demanding tax deductions for Segways. But no individual faces emerge. Of course, broadness is a necessary aspect of satire, but here reductiveness drains any urgency from the proceedings. There's little sense that lives, or souls, are at stake.
Even Cassandra, the nominal hero, fails to elicit much sympathy. Her motivations are more self-involved than idealistic: She's peeved that her father spent her college fund and kept her from going to Yale. And she's not entirely convincing as the leader and voice of her generation. Though her blog has won her millions of followers, we never see why she's so popular; we never see any samples of her blogging to understand why her writing inspires such devotion. What's even more curious is that, aside from her blog, she seems to have no contact with other people her own age. Her mentors, her lover and all of her associates are members of the "wrinklies" demographic.
Though I was willing for the most part to sit back and enjoy the rollicking ride, one incident in particular strained my credulity to the breaking point: Cassandra advises Sen. Jepperson to use profanity in a televised debate as a way of wooing under-30 voters, and the tactic is a smashing success. If dropping an f-bomb were all it took to win over the young folks, Vice President Cheney would be a rock star by now.
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