Who says the Trekkies and Buffy people should have all the fanfic fun? You could argue that the stories contributed to New York‘s Political Fictions Project And then again you could wonder who is more of an invented character than a political figure, fashioned as they are for public consumption with careful attention paid to telling detail, narrative cohesiveness, and believability. Barack and Michelle belong to us all no less than Kirk and Spock.
The pieces here run the gamut from Thomas Mallon’s straight-up airport novel take on John McCain to Paul Rudnick’s slapstick stream-of-consciousness Sarah Palin—though is there anyone right now who needs parodying less? No slashfic dirty stuff, thankfully, unless picturing good Mormons Mitt Romney and his wife without their Garments after a couples massage (Walter Kirn’s “Celestial Marriage”) is your thing.
I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that the standouts in this group were the female writers. Whereas the men approach the assignment with a fair degree of earnestness—Adam Haslett’s Obama story “Night Walk” is well done but almost disconcerting in its loving stalkerishness—the female touch was oblique and weird. Lionel Shriver has Rod Blagojevich’s negotiating with Michael Jackson’s father to take over his late son’s tour; Heidi Julavits has George H.W. Bush negotiating with Barbara over what to do with the “family embarrassment.” And in my favorite, a weird little bit of magical realism from Mary Gaitskill, Ashley Dupré reaches catharsis confronting Silda Spitzer at the Astral Plane Nail and Waxing Salon, under the guidance of a mysterious old Vietnamese manicurist. It’s a strange, strange story, but oddly sweet.
Coincidentally, I just finished Adam Braver’s November 22, 1963—at this point I have enough books on the pile that a date prompt is as good a reason to read one as any other. It fell more on the side of historical fiction, dealing as it did with the real-life event of John F. Kennedy’s assassination, but Braver still co-opts the minds and emotions of his players. The main thread among them is Jackie Kennedy, although a motorcade cop, an autopsy photographer, the collective domestic White House staff, and Braver himself, among others, weigh in as well.
The book manages to be both earnest and fantastic, full of the kind of jarring sensation filmmakers get when the camera lingers on a door after the actor has walked through. It’s ultimately more satisfying than New York‘s story collection. But Braver needs his ensemble to make the story work as more than a novelty, which makes me wonder if a novel or novella is just more suited to the genre.
However, I’d love to be proved wrong on that. Send your own political fiction to firstname.lastname@example.org by December 7; there will be prizes:
a one-night stay at Washington, D.C.’s Mayflower Hotel, site of Client
No. 9’s infamous dalliance with Ashley Dupré. Second place: dinner for
two at Blue Hill, Barack and Michelle Obama’s date-night destination in May. And third place: a copy of Going Rogue, by Sarah Palin—plus a one-month membership to Playgirl.com, of course.
Plus they’ll post their favorites all week.
(The painting of Obama on a victory unicorn is by Dan Lacey, who paints—among other things—Obama naked on unicorns and famous people with pancakes on their heads.)