Hogan's Alley

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Boomsday: First, Let's Kill All The Elders

In today's NY Times Book Review we find a review of Christopher Buckley's new novel, "Boomsday". The review is by Jane and Michael Stern. Mr. Buckley, of course, is also the author of "Thank You For Not Smoking, a masterpiece of cynicism made into a hilarious movie in 2005.

(Christopher Buckley photo from Wikipedia)

Here is the Stern's summary of the plot:

The premise: Social Security is bankrupting the country. The problem: young people are stuck with bills tallied up by self-indulgent retirees playing golf and drinking gin and tonics in gated communities. The solution: financial incentives for boomers who agree to kill themselves at the age of 70 (even more if they do it at 65). To put a nice wrapper on the plan, suicide is to be known as “voluntary transitioning.” This radical idea is floated by a blogger, Cassandra Devine, and it pulses out of the blogosphere to become the leading issue in a presidential campaign. Cassandra, a public-relations prodigy, devises an advertising strategy to stigmatize oldsters, referring to them as “resource hogs” and “wrinklies,” and puts a positive spin on the whole idea with Norman Rockwell images of senior citizens doing themselves in. One shows a couple thumbing their noses at a frustrated Grim Reaper, the caption reading, “We’ll do it on our timetable, thanks — not yours!”

The plot thickens exponentially as battle lines are drawn and redrawn among a cast of cartoon characters that includes a handsome, skirt-chasing Massachusetts politician named Randy Jepperson; a Bible-thumping right-to-lifer from Sperm (the Society for the Protection of Every Ribonucleic Molecule); a Roman Catholic monsignor who lives in the lap of luxury by bilking widows of their fortunes; Russian prostitutes called Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky; and Cassandra’s evil father, an Internet billionaire who gives the president of Yale a $15 million bribe so his dopey stepson won’t be expelled. None of the characters are supposed to be lifelike, not even Cassandra, a brainy pinup who is exalted as having “liquid, playful eyes and lips that seemed always poised to bestow a kiss” and “a figure that, when displayed in a bikini or thong at the resort in the Bahamas, would draw sighs from any passing male.”

Sounds like another fun ride to me. Can't wait for the movie version.

The Sterns, however, take another view. They find the entire enterprise entirely too unfunny. After all, according to them, the book fails to mention that some seniors are not well off and pokes fun at southerners. Buckley is also not up to the biting satire of Vonnegut's high irony when he suggested a similar plan in his short story, "Welcome To The Monkey House." I have to suspect, given the small world of the Book Review's writers, that Mr. Buckley's fate was sealed with the Sterns when he was fathered by that scion of all things evil, William F. Buckley. You will not likely find the Sterns cutting him any slack and risking their orthodox standing on the Upper West Side.

Here, for example, the following from the Sterns, "Then again, maybe we missed the obscure irony in lines like “When the going gets tough, the tough get blogging,” or “In cyberspace, everyone can hear you scream.”" Yes, I think they may have. I laughed out loud, especially at the second line. But perhaps one has to have some familiarity with the blogosphere to appreciate these jokes.

One final note, the Times' note about the authors of the review reports that the Sterns' most recent book is a memoir called, "Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food." So it would appear that the Sterns have determined to make their writing career a joint effort. How, one wonders, can any couple declare anything funny or unfunny? A sense of humor seems such a personal, individual thing that having to vote on the prospect seems absurd. Wouldn't, for example, one be tempted to shave one's opinion of a joke in favor of the constantly present larger cause of peace between the partners? Just asking.

P.S. The book makes its first appearance on this week's Times Bestseller List at number 12, dropping to 18 next week. Let's see what effect, if any, the review will have on sales.

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