may I ask, is better equipped to be America's premier comic
novelist than Christopher Buckley? I find that his fiction is the
proper response to being raised by would-be WASP Irish Roman
Catholics. Please note: I am not commenting on William and Pat
Buckley's politics or hobbies. What I'm saying is that there is
irony inherent in the conjunction of Hibernian dogma and Anglican
style. In novels from FLORENCE OF ARABIA to THANK YOU FOR SMOKING,
Buckley has demonstrated that the tensions in his upbringing and
milieux were not wasted on him; he knows when a cigar is just a
cigar, and when a good cigarette is a joke.
Thus, I eagerly looked forward to BOOMSDAY, Buckley's latest
riposte to American politics and popular culture. I was even
happier to see it released from Jonathan Karp's Twelve, an imprint
of Hachette Book Group USA, whose mission is to release no more
than one peach of a book in any given month and focus on bringing
that fair fruit to readers.
Twelve's mission statement says, "We will publish meaningful
stories, true and fictional. Stories told artfully by authors who
have a unique perspective and compelling authority. The singular
book. Books that explain our culture; that illuminate, inspire,
provoke, and entertain." Does BOOMSDAY fulfill this? Let's
1. Meaningful stories: In a not-so-distant future America,
Baby Boomer debt has threatened Social Security sufficiently that a
blog-born movement advocating voluntary euthanasia at age 65 gains
credence. Meaningful? Check.
2. Stories told artfully: Buckley has a winning way with a
scene, whether it occurs in a Humvee or a bedroom. Check.
3. Authors who have a unique perspective and compelling
authority: Buckley's perspective is both singularly
authoritative and compellingly unique. Check.
4. The singular book: What, you thought someone else was
writing about voluntary euthanasia schemes? Check.
5. Books that explain our culture: Since Buckley takes on
blogs, Congress, the electoral process, the Vatican, Russian
prostitutes, Yale's admissions policy and more, I'd say
6. That illuminate, inspire, provoke, and entertain: Two
checks. And two balances. Read on for an explanation.
In not-too-distant future America, good-ol'-boy President Riley
Peacham is the lame duck candidate confronting
blogger-with-a-mission Cassandra Devine, whose voice-of-doom web
journal is the vehicle for her unique solution to the coming Social
Security crisis. Her ethics-free boss, Terry Tucker (reminiscent in
morals and alliteration of THANK YOU FOR SMOKING's Nick Naylor),
and mannerism-heavy boyfriend, Senator Randolph Jepperson of
Massachusetts, alternately lead her on and astray, tossing out bon
mots like bon-bons along the way.
Buckley writes both smart and funny; he provokes and entertains.
Does he also illuminate and inspire? In this book, I'm not as
certain of that as I was with THANK YOU FOR SMOKING. Perhaps it's
because I could not find a shred of sympathy for or empathize with
any character in the book. Still, I have found it intriguing that
few reviews mention the raw deal Cassandra gets when her father
defaults on her first tuition payment to Yale and she enlists in
the army. I did feel a little sympathy for her then.
There was lots of humor in the cast but little engagement. Also,
the middle-aged Boomer characters are uniformly heinous (fallen
evangelist Gideon Payne, Papal-election-conscious Monsignor
Montrefelte and Cassandra's greedy father, Frank Cohane). But aside
from Cassandra, who seems a bit shrill and earnest at times, there
are no young characters. Maybe the author needs to go hang out at
Old Blue for a while and tune in. Remember, that's not "turn on,"
Reviewed by Bethanne Kelly Patrick on January 7, 2011