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You may know Buckley from his previous work, notably "Thank You for Smoking".
It's very hard to describe this book without making it sound far-fetched, worrying or silly-verging-on-frankly-ridiculous, as I found out while trying to recommend it whole-heartedly to colleagues and friends. How can you explain that a book about "incentivising suicide" and "US political campaigns" is not just "fun" but the most hilarious thing you've read in ages? Those words rarely appear in the same sentence, but this book is unfortunately just that: an ingenious tale of spin doctors and radical cost-cutting suggestions that are beautifully simple while somewhat unappealing to many, namely that when you hit age 75, poof, you politely go off to kill yourself and "do your bit" to help out the country's ailing welfare system.
Once I'd managed to get over the general plot, I was left trying to justify some of the more outlandish characters in this book. Cassandra Devine is a 20-something living in Washington who spin-doctors by day, and blogs by night. Her route into this job took her by way of Yale (almost), Bosnia (briefly), a Senate office (unappealingly) and a minefield (unfortunately) but despite her unconventional CV, she is a well settled, productive member of a DC based PR company. Randy Jepperson is a senator from the great state of Massachusetts, who lost a leg in that same minefield, and now has his heart set on a seat in the Oval office, a feat he plans to accomplish by some outlandish statements (telling the current president to "Shut the **** up" live on national TV, for example) and some even more outlandish actions (taking off his prosthesis during speeches and shaking it for dramatic effect, for example).
When Cassandra and Jepperson team up to take on the White House with an outrageous solution to the mounting social security debt, the aforementioned incentivising suicide bid, their main opposition comes in the shape of Gideon Payne, a dubious member of the Religious Right who may, or may not, have killed his mother on the sly, and the current president of the United States, a hapless character who is a mere puppet in the hands of his aides, and whose similarity to a certain current president appears far from coincidental.
There are lots of "stories within stories" in this book. Cassandra's family history is brought to the fore when her estranged father, newly loaded, buys himself a spot in the president's inner circle. Her relationship with the senator is a frequent cause for speculation among the press, including what they were doing in the minefield and why they were there in a minefield in the first place. Terry, her mentor and manager at the communications firm is a lovable rogue who could spin his way out of any tangled web, while others' credentials come under scrutiny when their business affairs are uncovered and they have to jiggle the resulting mess, including justifying their own cashing-in-on-the-dying strategies while publicly denouncing Cass's, ongoing campaigns for a monument to foetuses, and a newly discovered and somewhat uncomfortable new longing for ladies of the night. You couldn't make this stuff up.
What I really, really liked about this book was the lack of loose ends by the epilogue. As the story progresses more and more new facts and relationships are discovered, and the resulting web of who knows whom, who is in league with whom, who is genetically related to whom is convoluted but not too confusing. And yet, you imagine that somewhere along the way a few of these facts with fade away in an open-ended way, or disappear quite without thought, leaving you to wonder what happened there. This simply doesn't happen in this book, and I'm struggling to think of a single thread to this very well woven story that wasn't carried on and explained to a suitable conclusion. Lesser writers would not manage this, and I wouldn't judge them too harshly for it, but given the number of different directions this story takes, and the side roads along the route, the way in which they all converge together in the end is truly remarkable.
Some might think the themes in this book are tasteless, that the characters and the situations in which they find themselves are despicable, disgusting or downright dreadful, but I'm afraid to say I thought it was a brilliant read. The ideas might not be to everyone's liking, (though I would say, far from sick and twisted, I found them inspired and motivating), but the writing itself is a work of art, and I raced through it in no time, even ignoring the lunchtime gossip of my colleagues to get through a few more chapters.
Speaking of those colleagues, I do hope I succeeded in convincing them, and you, about the merits of this book, because it is an amazing read that I would thoroughly recommend, and I have been singing its praises ever since I reached the last page. It reads as funny, imaginative, well documented, authentic, ingenious... the list goes on, and though it's a rare thing for me to say in relation to a book for adults, I really couldn't fault it in even the smallest way.
Paperback: 384 pages
Buy it on Amazon for £3.99 new or a mere 1p used.
This review originally appeared under my name on www.thebookbag.co.uk