A futuristic farce explores the dystopian nightmare that results from one man’s ascendancy to the Oval Office.
In the late 22nd century, the whole world has been thoroughly transformed by the poisonous legacy of the presidential tenure of Ronald Thump—the transformation of Donald Trump’s name for satirical purposes in Mullins’ debut novel. As the United States economy crumbles, the rest of the globe embraces “corporate imperialism,” nationalism, and totalitarianism on an unprecedented scale. Midway through his first term, Thump voluntarily resigns from office. But his control over the country remains, as his own company, ThumpCorp, becomes the new president, and its CEO, Thump’s 15-year-old son, Viscount, acts essentially as the nation’s ruler. ThumpCorp eventually declares itself “President-in-Perpetuity,” completing the metamorphosis of the nation into a racist, religiously intolerant surveillance state. The author presents a few interlocking stories. Shari Aronson is forced to work for Thump-O-Vision, the state-run television propaganda network, and is subjected to the chauvinistic tyranny of her supervisor, Mr. Feacle. (He claims it’s a French name properly pronounced “Feely.”) Exasperated by his despotism, she becomes embroiled in a mini-insurrection by four women, who kidnap Mr. Feacle and flee into the “labyrinth of sewers and tunnels far below the city.” There, Shari is assisted by Hubert Dillerschlinger, who works for the ACRONIM office—contributing to the totalitarian manipulation of language—but also heads an ineffectual resistance movement. Meanwhile, Paul Generosity, a pastor, while on a diplomatic mission abroad, discovers an unredacted copy of the Bible and learns how disfigured his understanding of Christianity is.
In his wide-ranging and timely book, the author has no shortage of literary ambition. He seems to aim for something that combines the frenetic comedic delivery reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut with the sociopolitical commentary of Jonathan Swift. Unfortunately, Mullins often lands on far more pedestrian ground, closer to a vaudeville routine. Holding a gun, Shari frets: “Okay, that is probably where the bullets come out of, and this should be the trigger, but the bullets should be in the handle, shouldn’t they? She turned it around and looked at it from the barrel end. No, the bullets are right there, in that wheely-thing.” In other words, the humor is slapstick—relentlessly jocose and silly—but seldom clever or original. In addition, the novel is riddled with acronyms (some translated, many not) and heavily footnoted, so what should be a breezily unchallenging read takes quasi-scholarly labor to muddle through. Yet the most disappointing aspect of the work is its absence of nuance in the political commentary. As a consequence of Thump’s historically gruesome rule, everything that is bad happens and everything that is good ceases. Add in a host of puns and game wordplay and the result is this book’s literary worldview. Readers can be appalled by Trump’s presidential behavior and still hope for more out of the literature that takes him to task for it.
An over-the-top attempt at political satire.