MacK's Reviews > Boomsday

Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
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's review
Feb 21, 12

liked it
bookshelves: cannonball-read-iv, am-lit, contemporary
Read in January, 2012

While I appreciate the quick wits who write on-line and the rapid-fire punch lines and staggeringly savvy set pieces of Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, it's a pleasure to delve into a long form exploration of an issue--even a satirical exploration of an issue. Fortunately, there's Christopher Buckley.

I've already read and enjoyed most of his other novels: digging at tobacco and public health, at foreign policy in the Middle East, at the public obsession with the personal affairs of the first family, and at those who use the judiciary as a partisan football. But I was a little more cautious with Boomsday, which chooses to lampoon a dry topic on even the most acerbic tongue: Social Security reform.

The launchpad of the satire is quite as clever as Buckley's best work: a young idealist offers a modern day "Modest Proposal" to solve Social Security--incentivized suicide for the 65 + over crowd. But, because this is 20th Century America rather than 18th Century Ireland, the subtleties of this suggestion go unnoticed. We're Americans: a scalpel will never suffice so long as an a-bomb is readily available.

And so the whole thing careens wildly into chaos with plot-lines spinning off to include a pompous Senator (aren't they all?), a recalcitrant President (aren't they all?), a dogmatic preacher, a smug jackass billionaire and a treacherous Russian escort service (aren't they all?). As if the scope of the characters weren't enough, Buckley tosses in a murder investigation, a war-time scandal, familial strife, international intrigue, a high-powered romance and a presidential campaign. There is, to put it mildly, a lot going on.

There lies the biggest flaw with Boomsday--it's overstuffed with possibilites and underfed with analyses. Buckley's other works tend to savor the simple snark of one or two characters battling through one or two story lines: with five characters and at least as many plot arcs running at once it's easy to get distracted from the issue at hand and what begins so clearly twists and turns and wraps itself up into a convoluted (though entertainingly chaotic and quick-witted) ball of confusion.

And maybe that's the point. The complications build so quickly and so happily upon each other (with Buckley's stinging epigrams helping the action along) that the reader nearly forgets to ask questions about the pressing issue of entitlement reform, just like the media and politicians are saved from asking/answering those questions by the latest scandalous complications of the race (see: "Libya....uh...." and "whoops" to name but two). Whether Buckley lets the chaos of his novel grow to make that point or because he too would rather write about the goofiness than the problem at hand, the point is the same: we are a nation with problems, but we prefer distractions to solutions.

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