A debut satirical novel presents a lobbyist as literally a puppet.
In London’s tale, Max Wiggs, reporter for the Washington Star, introduces Pinocchio as a junior analyst for the Kronos Group, “the first firm dedicated solely to lobbying the government of the United States.” Unfortunately, Pinocchio feels “meaningless” both at work and at home with his wife, Whitney; 5-year-old son, Albero; and father, Geppetto. After a fender bender with Congressman Frank Barnes, Pinocchio, “at the urging of his boss,” tells the press that Barnes’ female companion was his secretary, earning Pinocchio ironic praise as “the last honest man in Washington.” For his own nefarious reasons, CEO Charles Stevens promotes Pinocchio to junior partner, and the wooden-headed up-and-comer cheerfully champions a slew of bills across the country. Reveling in his newfound success, Pinocchio neglects his family—“You’re just a puppet to them!” Whitney shouts—and forces Geppetto into assisted living, threatens his son, and dallies with a sexy co-worker. As Pinocchio’s personal life falls apart, so does the novel’s first-person narration. Suddenly an omniscient narrator describes characters’ interior lives, including that of Wiggs himself (“Max leapt up”), although the reporter’s voice reappears intermittently. When Pinocchio must testify on behalf of a bill that would wipe out the Environmental Protection Agency or lose his job, his nose grows into “a 24-inch wooden branch, complete with bark and leaves” and his skin hardens into “a smooth, sanded surface.” From this point on, Pinocchio’s journey goes full-on fantasy, remixing elements from The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan, complete with a gift-bestowing Fairy Queen, talking cockroaches, and comforting supporters whispering, “I believe in you.” Meanwhile, Stevens kidnaps Whitney and Albero, and Wiggs assists in a far-fetched, action-packed climax that involves a familiar whale. Despite some promising satirical insights and well-written dialogue, the extreme situations, otherworldly elements, and heavy moralizing (“It’s time to get back to who you are, and in that, find what you are”) give readers too little to believe in.
A chaotic mashup of a Beltway political thriller and several fractured fairy tales.