A boorish ignoramus takes command of a noble vessel and heads full speed ahead into chaos. Yes, it’s an allegory.
Eggers has developed an affinity for fablelike tales that sound alarms about global economics (A Hologram for the King, 2012), technology (The Circle, 2013), and authoritarianism (The Parade, 2019). This shallow, needless Trump parable is the worst of them. That’s mainly because the metaphorical veneer is so thin it all but renders the book unnecessary. When the commander of the ship Glory retires, a corrupt (not to mention “large and lumpy”) kitsch merchant nominates himself for the job, enchanting some and horrifying others. (Among his cronies are “a patsy named Michael the Cohen” and a daughter he lusts after.) Once the “known moron” takes over the Glory, he delivers crazed messages to passengers on a whiteboard (“People who ‘run’ engines are your Enemies”), flings the ship’s manual overboard, and then begins to do the same to anybody who crosses him. Immigrants who could assist are denied permission to board; minorities are cast out to cheers of “Drown the Brown.” A Robert Mueller–esque “Sheriff of the Seas” proves an ineffectual counterweight; in time, the shallow, gullible captain falls under the sway of a Putin-ish “Pale One." (The captain “liked particularly the way he murdered his enemies, or ordered the murder of his enemies.”) Soon, the Glory is pillaged for all it’s worth. Anybody who needs the Trump administration explained to them in lightly fictionalized, fifth grade–primer prose is probably beyond Eggers’ help. But there’s little to appeal to anybody else: The deliberately simple, would-be comic style softens the dangers Eggers means to call out, and his concluding messages about how to right the ship are cloying. (“First, dignity.”)
An ill-advised take on "The Emperor's New Clothes" that's limp when it isn't condescending.