Fiction: “Boomsday” by Christopher Buckley

“Can’t tonight. Gotta go back and blog.”

“‘Gotta go back and blog.'” Terry shook his head. “I’m offering martinis and mentoring. But if you want to go home and blog …” He looked at Cass with his “kind uncle” expression. “Excuse me for asking, but do you by any chance have a life?” [7]

It’s like Terry is talking to me.

Boomsday takes place in a currently-fictionalized-but-could-become-true version of the United States in a modern-day time frame. In this alternate universe, Social Security is due to run out oh, about now. Cassandra Devine (the aforementioned Cass) is a publicist-cum-blogger who is really pissed off at the idea that the Boomer Generation which is currently running the country is passing the Social Security responsibility onto her generation, Generation Whatever. So she blogs, and in a fit of pique, she comes up with an idea: grant tax cuts to Boomers who kill themselves at the age of 70, thereby saving their Social Security benefits and making the program financially solvent. She calls it “Voluntary Transitioning.” She is good friends with a Senator from Massachusetts and he takes it to the Hill where it becomes a bill and then it becomes a talking point for the President and there’s some whole big family drama between Cass and her estranged father and look, it’s BORING.

Maybe it was the plot (which sounded a lot better on the backflap), or maybe it’s the fact that I bought a Nintendo DS three days ago and I became completely addicted within two hours, but it took me way too long to finish this book. And more than that, I became disillusioned with the book. Like, it was promising to be this riveting tome about something that somewhat concerns me – the debts associated with our country and the fact that much of the debt the country is currently sitting on will become our responsibility (“our” meaning, not to quote Pete Townsend, “my generation”), but somewhere along the way the plot got away from Voluntary Transitioning and turned into How Someone Runs for the Presidency, with a side-jaunt into Oh Those Wacky Priests, Ordering from a Russian Escort Service.

I think I was so disappointed because it had the promise to be so much better. And don’t get me started on the ending – for all of its faults, and considering how long it took me to get through it, the ending felt rushed, flat, and cheap.

Not only that, but — well, here’s an example. I was reading on my lunch break at work, and I apparently skipped a page. The only reason I found out that I had skipped a page was because I flipped backwards, thinking I had forgotten something that was mentioned. If I hadn’t forgotten about that (minor) plot point, I would never have read pps. 202-203, and it wouldn’t have mattered, because skipping those two pages did not diminish the cohesion and coherency of the plot.

Not to say there wasn’t anything amusing about this book. Unfortunately, the humor only served to remind me of other things:

“This boy is done with suffering! This boy is going to party down and howl at the moon and get laid! I am going to know women! I’m going to know them every which way from Sunday!” [216]

This reminded me of the clip from Arrested Development‘s episode “Beef Consomme” where Buster decided he wanted to become a man. (skip ahead to the 5:00 mark.):

I mean, there is so much in life that I have not experienced! And now that I’m away from Mom, I feel like this is my chance to live. I want to dance! I want to make love to a woman! I want to get a checking account! I want to know what it feels like to get my face socked in! [Buster, “Beef Consomme,” Arrested Development]

The Senator who supports Voluntary Transitioning and ends up running for president also happens to be an amputee:

[The Senator], Cass, and Terry had a heated discussion about whether it was “presidential” to wave artificial limbs over one’s head during speeches. Cass and Terry finally said they’d resign if he did. Randy backed down. After he left the room, Terry said to Cass, “I’m going to Super Glue that thing to his stump for the duration of this campaign.” [263-264]

This rings completely true:

What a country, America. A lunatic asylum, without enough attendants or tranquilizers. [269]

And finally, something that is only funny to me (I’m sure), from a third Presidential candidate:

“That is normally when they hold the presidential debates [in the fall], is it not? Though I imagine we’ll be bumping into each other in New Hampshire and Iowa before then. I imagine it’s very cold in New Hampshire in February. Not my favorite climate. No, no. I am a creature of the South … I suppose I will need one of those puffy parka things from that Yankee store — what’s it called — L.L. Bean? Good day to you again, sir.” [263]

*sniff* Yankee store. Y’know, that kind of offends me like the entire Nancy Whatever plotline from 30 Rock last year. Julianne Moore’s Nancy character was so horrible that it turned me off of 30 Rock almost completely. As if the bad Boston accent wasn’t enough, just painting Boston as completely Irish Catholic and Red Sox-oriented pissed me off.

So, yeah, I didn’t like it. Guess who else didn’t like it?

“So what you’re saying is, you’ve been playing Ratify the Bill with your boy-toy pedagogue who tried to Chappaquiddick you in a minefield, and now you’re miffed because he’s not taking your grand idea seriously enough? Darling, you should concern yourself more with your follow-through and conviction and less with how to curb his premature exposition. Now if you’ll excuse me; my scarf and I have important political matters to attend to.”

Grade for Boomsday: 1 star

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Fiction: “Beat the Reaper” by Josh Bazell

When I went to the library last week to pick up A Single Man, I did the thing I always do when I go to the library: pick up like, four other books that I cannot under any circumstances read in three weeks instead of the one title that I had actually reserved. But this actually worked well: I’d seen Beat the Reaper a few times at Border’s, and every time I pick the book up, read the back, and then put it down, thinking to myself, “I’ll get it later.” So this time, I got to read it, and for free!

I have got to start doing that more often. Maybe if I didn’t tend to rack up so much guilt on overdue fees …

Anyway. Beat the Reaper was awesome. It was the first book I’ve read in a while where, when I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about what was going on in the book. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Now, the preoccupation with the book wasn’t anything near the preoccupation I had when I first read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, where I was totally reading the book while in the drive-thru at Starbucks, but Beat the Reaper is one of the better books I’ve read recently.

Dr. Peter Brown is doing rounds at one of the worst hospitals in Manhattan when he runs into an old … acquaintance, let’s call him: Eddie Squillante. With a name like that, you can guess about how Dr. Brown met Squillante. If you answered “in the mob,” you’d be correct.

Turns out, Dr. Peter Brown is actually the Witness Protection alias of Pietro Brnwa, a former hit man for the mob.

Without giving away the store: Squillante ‘makes’ Brnwa, and threatens to release that information upon the event of his death. Desperate to retain his new alias and life as a doctor, Brnwa must now find a way to keep Squillante alive following a gastrectomy – that’s removing the stomach, apparently (yeah, I had to look it up. I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy three years ago), and on top of that, he also got accidentally stuck with a needle filled of biopsy sample, so he could also die without being hit by the mob.

The chapters rotate, so one chapter will be about the present, and the next chapter will be about the past: how Brnwa became a hitman, what motivated him, et cetera.

As I said, this was a great read. If I had been able to, I would have read it much faster than I did. But I kept falling asleep! (Like I am now, at two in the morning. *eyeroll*)

And now, the quotes!

On the tiebreaker, though, sharks win. Because while we humans have our minds and our ability to transmit the contents of them down through the generations, and sharks have their big ol’ teeth and the means to use them, sharks don’t appear to agonize about the situation. [28]

Reason this was funny: I totally started reading this during Shark Week. And my car is a shark. And I won a plastic shark for my car at Palace Playland. And sharks and sharks and more sharks and SHARKS ARE THE NEW LOST.

This quote makes me think that if Brnwa hadn’t gotten involved with the Mob (and lived in Boston), he’d be a Boondock Saint:

No female targets (which was obvious), but also no targets whose misdeeds were solely in the past. Only ongoing threats. I had no way of knowing why my grandparents had let —– live, but she was a woman, and killing her brother had been enough to shut down their operation. So there you had it.

Meanwhile, if David Locano wanted to sic me on killers whose deaths would improve the world, I would verify his information and then feel free — obligated, even — to hunt them down and kill them. [108]

U2 may be a great band, and may be one of my favorite bands, but it doesn’t keep them from being wrong on occasion:

… and shortly afterwards that U2 song comes on about how Martin Luther King was shot in the early morning of April fourth. Martin Luther King was shot in the evening, even if you’re on Dublin time, but the U2 greatest-hits album is something you learn to live with in medicine. [187]

Entire chunks of the corner of the wall we’d been kneeling against just evaporated, like in one of those movies where a time traveler changes something in the future and things start to vanish in the present. [204]

He gets that TIME TRAVEL SHOULD BE LIKE IN BACK TO THE FUTURE. I love him for that.

Finally, this book’s rating was raised from a 3.5 to a 4 just for the following:

Lainie’s foxy, but she’s married. Granted, to a man who looks twelve and wears a basketball jersey long enough to be a cocktail dress, but homey don’t play that. [44]

I mean, come on: what other book that I could possibly read (aside from something by Chuck Klosterman) would ever quote Homey D. Clown?

Grade for Beat the Reaper: 4 stars

Fiction: “A Single Man” by Christopher Isherwood

I am a huge fan of The Soup on E!. Really, it’is the only show I watch on E!, though I do occasionally catch the opening of Chelsea Lately (you know? She’s funny, but not hilarious). The Soup has an extra factor than just irony, sarcasm, and hilarious out-of-context clips: its host is Alaina’s Pretend Boyfriend #3, Joel McHale (of Community! Which everyone must watch! Screw Bones and Big Bang Theory!).

You may be wondering: “Uh, Alaina? Did you get your entry windows confused? You’re writing in your book blog right now.” I know — I’m getting to it. Because see, on The Soup, there are different categories of clips. Joel usually starts with some standard clips from random shows, then goes into “Reality Show Clip Time!”, and that usually consists of clips from Jersey Shore and Big Brother and definitely The Bachelorette. There’s always some “Chat Stew” (soo meaty), which covers the morning talk shows (“Get Off My Lawn with Regis and Kelly,” “Good Morning LA,” Hoda and Kathie Lee) and of course, the Kick Ass Clip of the Week. But occasionally, there are Gay Shows.

Again: “What does this have to do with that book you just finished reading?” Well, let’s suppose, first, that That’s What She Read is actually The Soup. Then we can look back at some of the titles I’ve read recently. And then, we can propose that, if A Decade of Curious People is the equivalent to “Chat Stew” and A Rogue’s Game is most definitely my version of “Chicks, Man.”, then A Single Man has to be, in its simplest form, “Gay Shows.”

The plot of A Single Man covers one day in the life of a man. It could be anybody, really, but Mr. Isherwood decided to talk about the being known as George:

Obediently, it washes, shaves, brushes its hair, for it accepts its responsibilities to the others. It is even glad that it has its place among them. It knows what is expected of it.

It knows its name. It is called George. [11]

George happens to be a professor at San Tomas Community College in a suburb of Los Angeles in 196…2? (It never comes out and says explicitly what year, but mentions are made of the Cuban Missile Crisis and communists, which, if I remember what little 20th Century American History I was taught, seem to predate the Kennedy assassination.) He teaches English literature (which almost makes sense, for George is British), and he also happens to be gay. George’s partner, Jim, also happened to have died recently, so he’s still dealing with his grief.

But really, the book isn’t about George being gay. (And there’s a section in A Single Man where George, as an English professor, starts thinking or talking about how books are about something, but I didn’t turn the page down and I’m too lazy to go find it now.) It’s about a middle-aged man getting through a single day. It just happens that some of the things that George has to deal with is homophobia and reaching out to a student who might also be gay.

Now, you wouldn’t think that after having seen or read synopses of Tom Ford’s recent adaptation of the novel. If, like me, you watched the movie first, you’d believe that the novel is all about being a gay man who lost his partner and how he deals with the survivor’s guilt, among other things. But it’s not. To me, it’s about so much more and yet, so much less than that at the same time.

I watched the movie first; then, being interested and thinking it would be similar, requested the book from my Local Library. And it is, in many ways: we focus on George the entire time (Colin Firth narrates key moments). George wakes up, goes to work, teaches a class, runs a few errands, comes home, has dinner with his girl friend/neighbor Charley, then goes out to a bar, runs into a student, goes skinny dipping with said student (don’t panic, college student, and they were drunk), he and student go back to his house but nothing happens, I said don’t panic, and then they go to bed, he in his bed, and the student on the couch. End of day.

The huge difference is: in the movie, George is extremely depressed. He still hasn’t gotten over the death of Jim, and he’s trying to cope, but not succeeding. His evening with the student ends up giving him hope for his life that he didn’t have at the beginning of the movie. In the novel, George seems a bit depressed in the morning, but becomes more optimistic and happy as the day goes on.

And I don’t want to give away the ending of either the book or the movie, because I enjoyed both and I think others will enjoy both as well, but I’m going to talk about it in very vague terms anyway. The ending is the same in both, but the ending felt earned in the novel, and seemed like a cruel twist of fate in the movie. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Uh, so in the end, this book is nothing like “Gay Shows.” on The Soup. Wow. Talk about letting a metaphor get away from oneself. Sorry ’bout that, folks.

Grade for A Single Man: 2 stars