Two likable misfits are brought together by the Bush administration’s dastardly use of national education tests.
Chicago native McNally (The Book of Ralph, 2004) weaves the lives of Iowa grad student (film studies, alas) Charlie Wolf, whose sexually ravenous Russian girlfriend has left him for an Indian doctor, and Burbank, Ill., high-school dropout Jainey O’Sullivan, pierced and piebald. Jainey’s father went to prison for bashing out the brains of Jainey’s gym teacher (justifiably), her mother lives to smoke and her brother lives in the attic, simmering in white Christian rage. Jainey’s highly amusing essay in a No Child Left Behind test has brought her to the attention of mopey Charlie, who, not about to be hired as a film scholar, was mysteriously recruited to work for the national testing service in Iowa City. Afraid that Jainey may be suicidal and having nothing to keep him in Iowa, Charlie arranges a transfer to Chicago, taking a room in the ultragrim Pompeii Inn and working as a security guard in the massive central test-storage facility. Jainey is not suicidal, but she has benefited from the suicide of her beloved art teacher, who has bequeathed her the contents of her condo, including her masterwork, a bigger-than-life Osama bin Laden scarecrow that, when partially disassembled, becomes a George Bush scarecrow. Charlie isn’t the only one keeping an eye on Jainey. One of Charlie’s odd co-workers from Iowa City is on the scene, and Jainey’s father has been sprung from the pen. When they at last meet, Charlie and Jainey have to wonder whether the government has it in for them the way it seems to have had it in for the late art teacher.
Totally charming whacked-out politics.