For a change of pace — from Greece, Iran, Donald Trump, and from my usual fare of complaining about presidential imperialism, congressional gridlock and judicial extrapolation — here comes a short piece of summer booklist escapism. I can’t live up to the class or substance of the recent lists posted by my fellow Cagers regarding Africa or the Middle East. But I can offer Richard Nixon with a pentagram, and crazed libertarians.
In short, those seeking some escape from the real world should take solace in the fact that said world is being translated into fiction at a stunning rate.
Against the recent spate of Richard Nixon books (by Evan Thomas and Tim Weiner, for instance) comes Austin Grossman’s “Crooked,” which claims to combine “Lovecraftian suspense, international intrigue, Russian honey traps, and a presidential marriage.” The first chapter is here. I can only say it offers a rather different view of Watergate. “My name is Richard Milhous Nixon … and I have seen the devil walk.” Nixon fighting supernatural forces with incantations from the secret articles of the Constitution? Count me in.
While we’re still within shouting distance of July 4, I should mention political scientist Cal Mackenzie‘s new foray into historical fiction: “Independence.” Mackenzie, who teaches at Colby College, has written important works on presidential appointments, governmental ethics and the Great Society. Now he has turned his hand to the American Revolution and the trials and tribulations of families dealing with the internal schisms that the conflict produced. It’s a fun read. When PBS runs out of episodes of “Poldark,” they could do worse than to tap this source material.
Finally, you may remember this past spring’s surge of interest (by more than 200,000 people) in moving to an anti-government country in Eastern Europe that doesn’t, strictly speaking, exist. But long before that, back in the early 2000s, there was an organized effort by American libertarians under the banner of the Free State Project to colonize the town of Grafton, N.H. The idea was to have enough like-minded people move there together to create a voting majority — to privatize services and create a “UN-free zone,” among other things. The experiment continues, with one result a deeply divided small town.
From that fact to fiction: Adam Schuitema‘s novel “Haymaker” traces that sort of story but moves it to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, next to Lake Superior. Haymaker is “large enough for fellowship but small enough for those looking to make it a home … and to make a difference.” I’m guessing (hoping, really) that Grafton has not had quite the same range of drama and violence as the exodus to Haymaker provides Schuitema as he tracks an array of residents, old and new, who have to decide how (and whether) to live with one another. Though both sides have their share of crazed characters, the book takes their motivations and political philosophies seriously, which is refreshing. And if the maneuverings here are ultimately more personal than political, at least once the new inhabitants hit the frozen ground, the book does end with a mayoral election in a snowstorm — and some novel get-out-the-vote tactics.
Perhaps it is time for fictional federalism to take root. In any case, enjoy the respite. And if you can’t stay away from nonfiction, and from the election … do yourself a favor and at least make it the election of 1988 — with Richard Ben Cramer’s classic “What It Takes.”