Gregg Sapp's Reviews > Number Eight Crispy Chicken

Number Eight Crispy Chicken by Sarah Neofield
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Every air-traveler has a story of the flight from hell. Delays, missed connections, lost baggage, a middle seat between a screaming baby and an obese person with body odor, etc. As awful as your story may be, it cannot top Peter Ruddick’s ordeal in Australian writer Sara Noefield’s irreverent satire “Number Eight Crispy Chicken.”

As the Minister for Asylum Deterrence and Foreign Investment in the sovereign nation of Furtivus, Peter is accustomed to travelling in luxury. He is thus mildly irritated when he notices that his flight to the island of Pulchurrima will be punctuated by a stopover in the hinterlands of Turgrael, Turgistan.

Peter’s business in Pulchurrima is urgent, for this underdeveloped country is the perfect location for the next privatized franchise of refugee detention centers. He is proud of having conceived of this as a practical and profitable strategy for managing refugees seeking asylum in Furtivus. Not only that, but it has the political advantage serving to, “pull Furtivians’ attention away from the numerous challenges facing the nation by way of the changing environment and economy, for which they [the government] had no solutions, and neatly refocusing them on the tiny handful of people arriving in Furtivus by boat.”

And, slyly, Peter has complete faith in “the willingness of the downtrodden to turn on one another when given the slightest provocation, and his ability to give them that provocation.”

When Peter misses his connecting flight, though, he becomes stranded in the Turgrael airport. There, his odyssey is plagued by mishaps, mistakes, and misfortunes. He knows not a word of the language. He loses his expensive Triple Platinum Diamond Hubris Excalibur wristwatch. He is denied a visa to leave the airport. He is shocked to learn that his money and even his Gold Patriot International Express card are useless. He chips a tooth, breaks a toenail, spills hot coffee on his crotch, gets caught in the wrong restroom, is arrested as a suspected terrorist, and, perhaps worst of all, has no meal choice other than Number Eight Crispy Chicken at the only fast food restaurant in the airport. On top of that, he is hounded at every step by a pro-bono humanitarian lawyer who, infuriatingly, treats him with kindness and respect.

The sharpest satire straddles the boundary between reality and absurdity, and Noefield walks the line admirably. While Peter and his ilk hide behind plausible deniability, the author herself takes aim with deniable plausibility. That is, while readers understand implicitly that any similarity between fictional characters and real ones is “purely coincidental,” they also recognize that these coincidences reveal underlying truths nobody dares admit. Consider Peter’s scheme that:

“Children made the perfect bargaining chips. Every time Peter or one of his parliamentary pals needed to pass some unpopular new law regarding asylum seekers, they merely had to promise to let the children go – or threaten to lock even more up. Crossbenchers were then left with an impossible decision – to support legislation which would result in worse treatment of even more asylum seekers in the future in order to let the children currently incarcerated go free, or to vote against it in the interest of future asylum seekers but to the detriment of those currently locked up. It was perfect.”

Nobody could be that cynical, right? And yet, it explains a lot.

Noefield’s wit and irony are sharp throughout, save for one long passage in which Peter debates the humanitarian lawyer, and loses point after point to the do-gooder’s impeccable logic. Readers don’t need to be lectured on the fraud and hypocrisy of Peter’s political agenda, for humor accomplishes that objective better than any amount of rational dialectic.

That quibble notwithstanding, “Number Eight Crispy Chicken” is a biting lampoon of populist political ideologies which, unfortunately, are all too prevalent in today’s world.

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Reading Progress

June 18, 2020 – Started Reading
June 29, 2020 – Shelved
June 29, 2020 – Finished Reading

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