BOSTON — Recently while browsing at the Boston University Barnes & Noble, I serendipitously stumbled upon what might be the first-ever liberal action novel, The Librarian (Thunder’s Mouth/Nation Books, 256 pages, $13.95 paper).
Here’s how it happened: I was thumbing through Bill O’Reilly’s new children’s book, and, in particular, I was giggling through the following passage: “Here’s a big word for today: dehumanization. When you are interested in someone only on the basis of physique, you’re dehumanizing him or her, seeing that person only as an attractive object…And guys, if you exploit a girl, it will come back to get you. That’s called ‘karma.'” Recent, widely read court documents bear this out, I believe.
Anyway, right about then a store clerk came to the table with a woman and grabbed a copy of The Librarian enthusiastically off the table. “It’s not as crazy as it sounds,” he said, handing her the book. “You gotta read it before the election.” The woman looked apprehensive, but my interest was piqued. Turns out it was written by Larry Beinhart, author of American Hero, which Hollywood transformed into the Dustin Hoffman vehicle, Wag the Dog. The cover included a laudatory blurb from the New York Times, and described the novel as a “thriller about stealing the presidential election” with a president “who will remind you of the Republican you love the most or love to hate the most.”
Any takers? My guess is Beinhart is writing about Bush here. Evidence? Fictional president Gus Scott is running in 2004 “as the hero of his three wars,” Afghanistan, Kafiristan (??), and Iraq. He “dodged” Vietnam by joining the National Guard. He gave tax breaks to the rich and is in bed with big oil companies. Beinhart’s President Scott has “two prophets,” Jesus Christ and Adam Smith, and is himself actually controlled by the real world think tank and lefty canard, Project for a New American Century, whose actual reports are quoted herein. Scott’s constituency, or course, is made up of more provincial types. As Beinhart puts it, “the flag wavers loved him the way the NRA loves its guns.”
Take, for example, this bit of inner dialogue presented as the unfiltered thoughts of a conservative:
“Soon there’d be nothing left, no place a man could roam, call his own, them California people, movie and computer millionaires, coming in, dragging government in behind them. Vaccinating. Forcing schooling. Forcing the races to mix. Telling you what to think, what to say, how to live, crowding in.”
It should come as no surprise that power-hungry Republicans aren’t playing fair against the Democrats’ virtuous candidate, Anne Lynn Murphy, a former nurse who gained national prominence as an Oprah-esque television show host. (Ugh.) Murphy catapults to frontrunner status by calling President Bush — er, I mean, President Scott — a coward for not going to Manhattan on the morning of September 11, and also for skipping Vietnam where she herself served as a nurse. The American people suddenly realize that Democrats are the real warrior class and vote for Murphy is droves.
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS good, especially for readers who found the twists and turns of None Dare Call It Conspiracy too tame for their tastes: When it becomes clear to Republicans they are going to lose the election to the Democrats, Patriot Act-armed Homeland Security goons are first sent to Florida to start race riots to suppress the black vote and then, when that fails, they blow up the Statue of Liberty and a nuclear power plant. (I realize this is a work of fiction, but haven’t the Democrats been trying to take credit for the Department of Homeland Security for the last two years?)
In the middle of this, a mild mannered liberal librarian discovers that not only are the Republicans behind this current spate of attacks, but they also purposely let September 11 happen to sate their imperial ambitions. Only the sheer idiocy and racism of the American people is keeping this a secret. “Al-Jazeera…suggested that it was probably homegrown Americans. But nobody listened to Al-Jazeera; they were Arabs, after all.” No, the only one who can save America now is someone with nuance and an academic background; someone who understands that the war against terrorism is really a war against Republicans.
Like most action heroes, this librarian is a tortured soul. But he’s tortured in a very politically correct way. For example, when he and some of his fellow librarian accomplices are on the hunt for disguises, they argue about whether to shop at Wal-Mart or not. He keeps relating parts of his new life of espionage to his favorite Woody Allen movies. At one point, while making a tight escape from the Homeland Security brown shirts on a bus, the librarian stops to wonder, “Is Woody Harrelson right? Should all our diesels be converted to burn vegetable oil, most particularly hemp oil?” Even in a life or death situation, the environment comes first. Then there are the endless lectures disguised as dialogue about tax cut cabals and the “real effects” of conservative social policy.
DESPITE SOME UNINTENTIONAL laughs, The Librarian is a sad and turgid affair. Far too long at more than 400 pages, it feels as if it was nevertheless rushed out to shelves for the election season before an editor got a go at it. The characters are so woodenly partisan — unholy demons on the right; angelic peacemakers on the left — that it is impossible to take them seriously even for a moment. But, then, quality doesn’t seem to be the point here. The book reads more like a crude inside joke. It’s the world liberals would like to see echoed in the New York Times when they wake up tomorrow morning: Republicans Unmasked as Root of All Evil: Homeland Security, Military Being Disbanded; New, Thoughtful Defense Based on Poetry and Good Vibes Wave of Future; Librarians and Academics Cheered in Streets.
In the hands of a great writer, perhaps even a yarn so outlandish could have seemed possible rather than simply silly. After all, Tom Clancy turned a mild-mannered analyst into certifiable action icon, and a believable one at that. Instead, Beinhart has convinced some poor schmuck working at Barnes & Noble that Republicans committing terrorist attacks against Americans to retain power is “not as crazy as it sounds.” Seeing such long-whispered conspiracy theories in print may be gratifying for those who cannot control their antipathy towards our current president, but it certainly isn’t for the objective reader.
But kudos to Beinhart at any rate. At least he labeled his book a work of fiction.