America under new (and questionable) leadership provides a creative backdrop for this energetic, offbeat political satire, journalist Walls’ (Incesticidal Nurturing: The Life-Affirming Brilliance of Nirvana’s Weirdest Album, 2013) fiction debut.
It’s 2015, and the United States has been under the republican leadership of Mitt Romney ever since he edged out Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election. In an effort to shine bright for his re-election bid, President Romney has been busy instituting a Middle East peace plan as an addendum to the general cease-fire between Israel and Hamas in 2014. Romney’s deal included the creation of Palestinian refugee internment camps located in Gaza, Wyoming, such as Camp Echo in “New Gaza,” staffed largely by imprisoned volunteers (“citizen debtors”) who will have their student loans expunged in exchange for work. Persia VanSlyke is headed to Camp Echo to interview a young English instructor, a task that falls somewhat outside hir typical duties as lead investigator for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Persia—who identifies as a frustrated, ambiguous “genderqueer” and is described in gender-neutral pronouns—is then dispatched by hir boss, Beverly, to dig into a politically risky family scandal involving a prominent venture capitalist who happens to be a Democratic senatorial candidate. In an effort to curb the country’s Republican influence, Beverly, a widower and loyal Democratic Party politico, has been finding such candidates to score senatorial seats, though this blossoming family scandal might put his mission at risk. Walls then effectively amps up the histrionics by adding more outlandish personalities to the mix. Philomela “Melly” Shroud—a fallen journalist jailed for prematurely publicizing Romney’s prison camp project—bombs the prison and absconds with the possibly illegitimate Palestinian son of senatorial candidate Dennett Meyerbeer, with bubbly cable news anchorwoman Crissy hotly pursuing the story. The melodrama may be too-tidily cinched with a garage shootout in the book’s final pages, but on a grander scale, Walls’ wildly serpentine satire ultimately emerges as more than a cleverly penned political lampooning. Along the way, he pauses to reflect on gender nonconformity as well as the greater issues of party politics, privilege, and international relations.
Unusual and flawed yet packed with the kind of imaginative brio that fans of political satire will find irresistibly zany.