A butler recounts his service to an egomaniacal businessman who runs for president.
Billy Baxter’s mother runs a modest grocery store, which supports a family life he seemed to find unfulfilling from an early age. One day, Harrison Helm III, an obviously wealthy man, pulls up to the store in a luxury car looking to refill the tank and takes an interest in Billy. Harrison eventually invites Billy to come work on his mother’s vast estate, referred to as Valhalla, as a full-time footman who lives on the grounds. After years of dedicated service, Billy ascends to the position of head butler and ends up toiling at Valhalla for 22 years. He cultivates a friendly rapport with Mrs. Helm, but upon her death, he resigns his position and accepts a new one as butler for the estate’s new owner, Vincent V. Victor. Victor is a notoriously crass but extraordinarily rich businessman, and many see him as an opportunistic oligarch who represents the worst of American capitalism. The parallels between Victor and Donald Trump are clearly intended: Victor, a bestselling author of business books, creates an NBC special called The Great American Breast Contest, a hilarious spoof of the televised Miss America pageant. Reviled for his shady business tactics, he runs for president on a rhetorically bombastic platform that promises to revitalize America through trade protectionism and the cessation of illegal immigration. He circulates conspiracy theories, denounces the evils of political correctness, and runs against an opponent he mockingly refers to as “Flopping Sally.” Leamer (The Lynching, 2016, etc.) deftly charts the arc of Billy’s life from vulgar poverty to aristocratically civilized wealth to an unusual combination of the two. The principal strength of the work is the elegant first-person narration Billy provides; the entire book is presented as his memoir. Billy’s gimlet-eyed observations display remarkable restraint, typically withholding judgment, and his peculiar life experience is itself a kind of master tutorial in the nuances of American class. Despite its heavy reliance on the imitation of current affairs, this work is an impressively inventive tale, with considerable wisdom to boot.
A fictional dramatization of America’s current presidential race, skillfully rendered.