Book Review: Readings
Christopher Buckley delivers some pretty spot-on satire of Beltway politics but misses the mark for humor
Reviewed by Jordan Smith, Fri., Sept. 12, 2008
Supreme Courtshipby Christopher Buckley
Twelve, 304 pp., $24.99
If Christopher Buckley's new book were as tight and concise as its premise, it would be hilarious. There is no doubt that the setup is clever and promising: U.S. President Donald Vanderdamp is pissed with Congress – and, in particular, he's having issues with a single senator, Dexter Mitchell, who wishes he were president and who, as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is dead set on blocking Vanderdamp's nominees to the Supreme Court – indeed, one is booted in a very funny passage early in the book, for not sufficiently appreciating, in grade school, the genius of To Kill a Mockingbird. In return, Vanderdamp hatches a surefire plan to get his way: by nominating America's TV darling, the sassy and straight-talking Texan Pepper Cartwright, host of the nation's No. 1 reality show, the court drama Courtroom Six. She may not have experience, but she's popular!
There is no doubt that Buckley delivers some pretty spot-on satire of Washington, D.C., politics, just as he has done in other successful novels, such as Thank You for Smoking. He's certainly nailed the reality of personality politics – where image is king and a politician's personal goals and ambitions often take precedence over the work they're supposed to be doing on behalf of the people. Sen. Dexter Mitchell is a perfect example of this – and certainly one of the more fleshed-out characters in Buckley's often-banal soap-opera novel. Mitchell is narcissistic in a way that is eerily familiar – that is, if you spend any time watching C-SPAN.
But while there are parts of Buckley's new novel that are rollicking and gut-chuckle-worthy, those moments are overshadowed by characters so flat they're matzo and the overwhelming barrage of trite jokes and overused gimmicks – like Buckley's annoying habit of providing footnotes that not only distract from the flow of the narrative but too frequently seek to explain jokes that are either painfully apparent or, in the worst cases, embarrassingly hackneyed.