EMPEOR OF AMERICA by Richard Condon


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While Condon has displayed a flair for black comedy (most notably, perhaps, in the Prizzi trilogy), he here offers a labored and implausible burlesque, unleavened by either redemptive vision or irony. The capriciously plotted fable follows the career of a dim, diminutive, and priapic colonel named Caesare Appleton--who assumes nominal command of the US in the future when an outlawed nuclear bomb obliterates Washington, D.C. Having battled Nicaragua (America's only consequential adversary) to a standstill around the globe and converted Nantucket into a landing field for the CIA's revenue-producing cocaine, Chay becomes CEO, then emperor, of the nation--the latter office gained courtesy of an unnoted rider in a bill raising the pay of senators and congressmen who now work out of Dallas. The power behind Chay's throne, however, is brother-in-law Wambly Keifetz, conniving head of Bahama Beaver Bonnet Co., a multinational conglomerate. Media-wise Keifetz (who detonated the blast that erased the seat of government) soon makes Chay a TV hero beloved by the couch-potato populace that avidly follows the antics of new royals. In equally short order, he masterminds his pawn's disgrace and exile--to Cape Disappointment, Antarctica. The story tale ends with Chay's death (in a bathtub fall) during an abortive campaign to depose Keifetz, who has transformed the country back into a republic and been elected its 43rd president. Condon's schematic story line serves mainly, of course, as a vehicle for assaults on the dubious legacies of Reaganism, plus a host of socioeconomic institutions, political myths, and allied ills putatively threatening the union. There are some light touches along the way (e.g., the faith that Chay's ex-wife puts in an alphabet-soup seer). Mostly, though, the going is both heavy and tedious. Those in search of bizarre insights and genuinely savage intelligence might reread Nathanael West's A Cool Million.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1989
Publisher: Simon & Schuster