Sunday, July 04, 2004

Funny how no one is making the obvious connection between Nicholson Baker's savage-sounding new novel -- in which a man plots to assassinate President Bush -- and other similartly scandalous novels from the past.

The first one that comes to mind for me is Philip Roth's Our Gang, from around 1971 or 1972 -- a merciless parody of Richard Nixon, which concludes, first, with President Tricky getting killed and everyone claiming credit, and second, with Tricky in Hell, where he runs against Satan for the top office. My older brother and I read it around the same time, when I was 14, and both of us were just howling with laughter. It wasn't what you might call "high" parody; it was more at our level, more along the lines of National Lampoon or Mad. I haven't read Baker's book, but I cannot fathom a meaner novel toward a sitting president than Roth's, or one which looked at his death with a more gleeful eye.

Then there was Robert Coover's The Public Burning, which I don't think I ever finished reading. I thought it was kinda loud and lame, kinda obvious, and which has probably dated badly in the years since, if for no other reason than that it hitched the story to the wrong star, history-wise. It was a very postmodern take on the execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, both of whom -- along with Alger Hiss -- were assumed to be victims of hysteria, quite the opposite of the way things turned out (although when Coover was writing, I guess it was still open to question).

I'll be interested to see if Baker can push things further than Roth or Coover.

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