Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I had thought oysters tasted like nasty gooey sea water the first time I tried them. I had thought I'd never get a better oyster then in Brittany, so after nearly gagging on what I was assured was an excellent specimen, I put oysters on the short list of Food Items I Have Tried As An Adult And Simply Do Not Like.

Well, I tried an oyster again this weekend. Somebody else doctored it with lemon juice and some sort of tabasco-like substance, and those--along with a faint pungent saltiness--were what I tasted. Quite pleasant! I'm not about to spend hundreds of dollars to refine my oyster palate, but they come off my list.

This means that I should try eating another persimmon sometime.


Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Artist and the Flasher

Louise Bourgeois:
The flasher is somebody who deals with things that are not supposed to be said, heard or, or seen. Right. Right. The flasher continually deals with, with the unsaid, unnoticed. And I, I like the flasher, because I live in that in that world where I like to call a cat a cat, a spade a spade, whatever. And that is where, that is where we find the necessary impulses and desires that are, that we need.[…] No, the flasher is the person that we have to take care of. Otherwise, it would be dangerous. But, in that word of regulation, the flasher has began a friend.
Why is the girl inside the flasher?
Louise Bourgeois:
That is why the girl has taken refuge in the flasher's coat because she knows that nothing can go wrong. The limits are established and nothing can go wrong. The game is not rigged and that is why the girl takes refuge in that coat. Now, that is difficult to understand. In fact, it is not difficult to understand at all, if you are sympathetic. And has been able in the process of growing up, to feel compassion for the big fool, that is the flasher. The flasher is a man who has not grown up, the flasher is himself, is a retarded creature, that's why they find themselves. That's why they like each other. They are poor devils together. The big coat is a metaphor for the unconscious. She takes refuge the same way that artists take refuge in the unconscious. I feel at ease with my unconscious. I trust it.”

In conversation with Nigel Finch, July 21, 1993.


The Psychic Gambit

In case any of my four readers needs a conversation piece for a society novel, it strikes me that telling the story of a visit to a psychic might be the perfect device. Since the teller of the tale doesn't necessarily believe anything the psychic said, it becomes license to assert completely deniable opinions about other people or express benchmarks, desires, expectations that would usually be considered unacceptably coercive. If the audience thinks that psychics are canny old frauds, they might be even more curious than the believers to hear about the visit, allowing the teller of the tale to monopolize even further the conversation's direction.

Yes, this happened to me recently.

Literary antecedents of interest: Hilary Mantel's recent Beyond Black features as a main character a genuine psychic--who's not above a bit of petty chicanery if it's what the punters want. In the nineteenth-century novel category, Charlotte Brontë uses a double-reverse fake-out version of the fortune-teller-at-the-dinner-party device in Jane Eyre. And then, of course, there's the Scottish play.

What am I missing in the literary tradition?


Where's Ahmed? (A Recurring Feature)

Last seen creating trouble leading the De-Ba'athification Committee (an excellent place to torment old enemies and shake down random unfortunates), Chalabi has popped up again in a special liaison position...
In a new post created earlier this year, Mr. Chalabi will serve as an intermediary between Baghdad residents and the Iraqi and U.S. security forces mounting an aggressive counterinsurgency campaign across the city. The position is meant to help Iraqis arrange reimbursement for damage to their cars and homes caused by the security sweeps in the hope of maintaining public support for the strategy. [...]

The new position is vaguely defined, and it is too early to tell how much power Mr. Chalabi will ultimately wield. How much money will be available to pay claims and how it might be awarded and disbursed remains to be finalized, too. But he is a skilled political infighter who has often shown a talent for making the most out of whatever hand he is dealt. Mr. Chalabi also maintains close ties with key political allies of Mr. Maliki such as radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, which gives him extra sway within Mr. Maliki's government. Indeed, U.S. Embassy officials suggest Mr. Chalabi's closeness to Mr. Sadr is a major reason he was offered the liaison post.
Quoted from The Wall St. Journel, via Josh Marshall.

I will follow Chalabi's future career with great interest, as the teachers in Wodehouse's novels always seem to have declared.

[March 1st update: Swopa has also been following Chalabi's career with great interest and has a wonderful picture up to accompany a similar story as the above.]


Wednesday, February 21, 2007

The Public Discourse Around the LDS Church--1

I've been meaning to write more about how Mitt Romney's campaign has created a public debate about the LDS's position in the more general public arena, but from my position as a non-believing Mormon it's always seemed a little presumptuous. I find myself responding to other people's posts rather than putting up my own.

Here's one post on Romney's Mormonism, from Matt Yglesias, which gets to one of the key aspects that's bothering me about the current debate. Romney, as a wannabe conservative Republican, is trying to pick up primary votes from the evangelical South. In order to do so, he's claiming a general Christian moral high ground: "we're all people of faith, here, and that's what's important." This is understandably annoying to people who embrace secular values or think that religious faith is not a prerequisite to governmental position.

What's killing me is the number of journalists and bloggers who, in trying to hit back against Romney's annoying aspects, are repeating the claims of the theologically rigid. Yes, Catholics and some evangelicals hold that Mormons aren't really Christian. However, most Mormons react to that charge as a filthy slur. Even as a non-believing, non-practicing Mormon, as I search for an analogy for how this line of analysis feels, I end up thinking of the charge of deicide against the Jews.

And that brings me to the second link I want to preserve here, Liz's getting skeptical about the extent to which "Christian" gets to mean "decent folks" in our culture. Being reminded that Mormon doesn't get to mean "Christian" or "decent folks" without a trial period and a debate just offends me. There is a great deal to criticize about the LDS Church, from its racist past to its current patriarchal structure. Among the various Christian sects, the LDS church has retained a coherent hierarchal unity, which makes it seem like an institutional monolith--and particularly to Republican viewers, I would say. However, the extended LDS community--the jack mormons, expelled mormons, cynical mormons, gay mormons, resigned mormons, intellectual mormons--these people (most of whom probably still remain on the church rolls) are some of the most decent folks I've known. I'd be appalled to see them subjected to a theological test to run for office.

[Update: DaveB has an excellent post on eerily similiar themes over at The Great Whatsit.


Roth's Plot Against America

There were times in the middle of this novel that I thought Roth was visiting some darkly important possible history, but the ending, with its brisk return to politics as usual, undercut the narrative's slow triumph of justified fear over paranoia. With the politics so easily resolved, the novel seems in retrospect to return to the family-drama size that, in truth, it always was.

It's an excellent family drama, though. I particularly respected the treatment of the ne'er-do-well adopted nephew Alvin, who joins the Canadian forces to fight against the Nazis early on, but comes back with an amputated leg into an America that doesn't honor his war. Alvin is seen mostly through the eyes of the young Philip, the main narrative focus, who is horrified and fascinated by Alvin's missing leg, with its stump's festering wounds and its ill-fitting prosthetic. At about ten years old, Philip declares that he is Alvin's prosthetic. I'm still thinking about that statement.

Young Philip, who ages over the novel from about eight to about 12 (if I've got it right), is nervously tuned into every sign of strife. His older brother participates in a program to send Jewish children into the heartland for assimilation; he comes back from Tennessee a bit of a prat and a willing propagandist. His aunt has married the Rabbi-in-Chief, whose imprimatur has allowed Lindbergh to claim that his policies aren't anti-semitic. Philip's father is something of an old-school leftist, and his mother is happiest within the Jewish community of Newark, and so the two of them struggle against their desires to see their children advance and their fears that leaving the "ghetto" is part of an anti-Jewish program.

The idea that assimilation can be held out as both a promise and a threat seems to me to be a very contemporary concern. I just wish that the ending of Roth's novel had given me a better sense of what he was trying to say by evoking these ideas, these fears. If there was a fourth-act tragic death, it was the mother of Seldon--the downstairs neighbors' kid--and not only did she die offstage, she died in a flashback in an entirely different state, and she was never particularly vivid to begin with. The fifth act, if that's an appropriate frame to read this novel with, contains a lot of denouement, but no sense of real resolution.

Here is what the professional reviewers have said...


Friday, February 16, 2007

It's Come To Eat The Songbirds!

This morning when I woke up, I saw a giant dark shadow on my bedroom windowsill. I scrambled to get my glasses and my camera, and this magnificent beastie is what I saw. The hawk, who was very suspicious of me, flew away after I got this shot, and my windows are none too clean, and I haven't been birding for years ... but I think it's a red-tailed hawk. One of these guys. I think it really did come to eat the songbirds: my diagonally downstairs neighbor puts out enough birdseed to attract an air flotilla of little chirpers. Some of those are starlings--I'm sure of it!--but enough are ugly pigeons that I'm rooting for the hawk.


Thursday, February 15, 2007

Giant Literary List 3

I thought I'd finish this off in one swoop rather than drag it out forever. It's a giant last entry to the giant literary list!

Books My Teacher Made Me read That Made Me Question the Value of My Education

María Amparo Ruiz de Burton's Who Would Have Thought It?, a civil-war era sentimental novel, was a ponderous mess of a book, redeemed only by its cultural politics.

Books That Made Me Want to Have Sex with at Least One Character

Though some people I can think of would hate me for this, I am going to have to cop to finding Lovelace (Richardson's Clarissa), or at least his style, pretty damned seductive. Septimus Hodge in Stoppard's Arcadia is also hot.

Books I Actually Read but Got a Poorer Grade on the Paper I Wrote on the Subject Than My Best Friend Who Did Not Read the Book

It's possible that my friends who didn't read the book were unwilling to talk to me about that fact, but as far as I know, this never happened to me.

Books I Read Because the Author Looked Hot

I may have picked up the first Miéville book at least in part because of his picture.

Books I've Read Aloud

I do this a lot with poetry and dense philosophy. It helps me slow down my reading. So, let's see... I read much of The Prelude out loud, all of Don Juan out loud, a bunch of Adorno and Heidegger out loud, some Kant (it didn't help comprehension there). These days, my honey and I are working through the complete Shelley out loud.

Books I Love Even Though the Last Twenty Pages Made No Damn Sense

The canonical example of this phenomenon is everything by Neal Stephenson, most particularly Snow Crash.

Books I Have Written a Prequel/Sequel to in My Own Head

Sabatini's Captain Blood! (Yes, I know he wrote his own sequels, but I haven't found any of them to read yet.)

Books I Keep Meaning to Read, but Then I See Something Shiny

I'm going to regret admitting this, but Walden. I even have a beautiful authoritive edition (ed. J. Cramer) that I shelled out a heap of money for.

Books I Will Go to the Mattresses for, Even Though I Hate the Writer

Even after all he's done to demolish his literary reputation, I still really love Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game and A Planet Called Treason, weird and problematic as they are. As misogynist and terroristic as his novels were, I love Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, which is just flat-out beautiful. What else? I'm sure there are a lot of books I'd defend against their authors.

Books You Must Read Because You Must Mock

Even with the most mockable books, I... wait, no: Dan Brown's Angels and Demons is a truly awful book. His Digital Fortress is even worse, but it's just sad; Angels and Demons has a bestselling exuberant awfulness that makes it ok to mock.

Worst How-To Books Ever

I've read a few bad guides to oil painting, but I'm not holding any grudges.

Books That Were on the 'To Be Read' List the Longest

Gravity's Rainbow. I decided at some point to take it off my to-read list and to hope that someday I'd simply run across it and want to read it without being prompted.

Books I Hated Having to Read in School, But Love Now

L'Etranger. As a fifteen year-old Mormon, I did not understand what this book was supposed to be about.

Books Whose References Have Worked Their Way into My Household Lexicon

In Great Expectations, Pip's aunt periodically goes on a "ram-page" to clean up the house and everything in it.

Books I've Never Read But Have Read the Cliffnotes Version

I've never read a Cliffnotes version of anything.

Books I've Read Because I Liked Their Cover Design/Font

I'm sure I choose books based on their cover design (not fonts, though), but nothing is coming to mind. If I did it too often, I'd own many more Vintage Books editions than I do. HOWEVER! If anyone reading this works in the publishing industry, could you convince people to stop using cover designs that look like that awful Jonathan Safran Foer book? It's getting out of hand.

Books Which, When It Comes Right Down to It, I Would Have No Problem Burning

The most recent Orson Scott Card book, Empire, comes awfully close to that fell standard. I actually brought it home from the library for chuckles. Within ten pages I was just bored.

Books Which I Read Only for the Sex Scenes

There's an entire novel around the famous gardener scene in Lady Chatterley's Lover? Huh.

Books I Pretend to Like So People Won't Think I'm a Snob, or Books I Pretend to Like So I Won't Hurt Your Feelings

I finally thought of one! The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo. That reminds me of another one! Le Petit Prince. Both of these books have a sentimental place in many people's hearts, and admitting that I find them trite would be like calling somebody's baby ugly.

Books with Covers So Embarrassing You Can't Read Them in Public

A fair amount of SF and Fantasy has just laughable cover art. One that's coming to mind is Dan Simmons's Hyperion---though, looking at the image now, I've certainly seen a lot worse. Recently I've been carrying around on subways The Penguin Book of Erotic Stories by Women, which features a Renaissance painting of a bare-torsoed woman whose nipple is being pinched by a mysterious hand. That's a little embarrassing.

Books You Are Sorry You Didn't Read Decades Ago

That's difficult to answer. I often have that feeling of "Oh! At last!" when I read something really great. On the other hand, some books, like most of Kerouac and Salinger, I've read and thought: "Hm, perhaps I'm too old to appreciate this in the same way other people did."


The Gulf Run

Ken Silverstein has been running an interesting symposium of experts over at Harper's on the possibility of war with Iran. The consensus seems to be: well, we don't know whether it's going to happen, but it would be crazy and we're really worried.

In the second dispatch of the series, I learned something new. It's a small thing, but it struck my imagination. From Unnamed CIA Official #1:
Every night, members of the Revolutionary Guard pack up their speed boats with rugs and crafts, really pricey stuff. They weave their way through all the traffic on the Gulf and sell the stuff on remote areas of beach just north of Sharjah, Ajman, and Umm al Qaywayn. They off-load and sell their goods and then load up with Jack Daniels, porn, CDs, electronics, satellite receivers, and computers, and weave their way back through traffic to Iran. At 3 a.m. on a moonless night, one of those boats speeding across the Gulf could easily cross the defensive radar signature of a U.S. frigate, and it's going to get shot up. So you have a situation that is essentially an accident, and all of a sudden you have a crisis.
Every night the smugglers make this run? Wow.

I have four mostly silly reactions to this. A) That sounds really dangerous. B) I would like one of those rugs. C) This has got to be winked at by both the Iranian and the UAE governments: just another case of trade sanctions leading to black market practices, I guess. D) The expertise those smugglers are getting with the waters of that area could make them nasty saboteurs.

(hat tip: Jonathan Schwartz, who has declared his site to be going "all Iran, all the time.")


Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Giant Literary List 2

Books in Which I Liked the Secondary Characters Better Than the Main Character, or Books in Which I Wanted to Beat the Main Character Senseless with a Tire Iron

The canonical answer to this is Mansfield Park, but I'd also like to take this opportunity to hate all of Dickens's children.

Books I Lied About Reading and Then Wrote an A+ Term Paper On

I never did this. I liked reading.

Books I Lied About Reading/Liking Solely to Look Smart/Pretentious

Oh, man. Ok, I'll come right out and admit that I did not get more than twenty pages into Spivak's A Critique of Post-Colonial Reason.. I have never read Bakhtin on Rabelais. Yes, yes, I know it's great; yes, yes, I know it was on a bunch of my bibliographies. Bourdieu is a profoundly unpleasant seeming person, though I know that's an unsophisticated thing to say. Oh, I could go on.

Books I Wish I Hadn't Finished, or Worst. Ending. Ever.

There's a perfect example of that I read recently. Crap, what was it? It had a whole bunch of characters and an odd, kind of baton-passing kind of narrative structure. It took place in New York City during the election crisis of 2000, and everybody worked in television. Anyone know what I'm talking about? Well, the ending sucked. A lot. I've also never liked the end of Jane Eyre.

Books I Read after Oprah Recommended Them

This just doesn't compute.

Books I Will Never Read Precisely Because Oprah Recommends Them

This also just doesn't compute. Oprah is completely irrelevant to my life.

Literary Characters I've Developed Crushes On

Byron. Late-period Byron, that is! (Wouldn't have you think I liked that Childe Harold twit.)

Books I Only Read to Impress Other People

Oh man. Fucking Spivak goes on that long, long list.

Best Books Not to Read from Start to Finish, or Best Bathroom Books

Benjamin's Arcades project.

Books I Shouldn't Admit Made Me Cry Like a Baby

I don't cry at books---that I can recollect, that is---but I was ridiculously moved by China Miéville's Iron Council (even though I still prefer his The Scar).

Books I Only Read for the Title

I do this all the time, so no particular instance leaps out to me.

Books I Re-Read When I Have Nothing Else to Read


Books People Keep Recommending That, Frankly, Sucked Ass

I keep seeing people on the internet express some love for Robert Jordan's fantasy series, which is almost as foul as Terry Brooks's. Nick Hornby's novels are pretty awful.

Books My Teacher Made Me Read That I Really, Really Liked

It took me years and years, but eventually I learned to love Great Expectations. I loved a lot of books my teachers made me read; that's why I stayed in school for so long.


Giant Literary List 1

AC recently linked to a giant literary list of questions, some of which are interesting. Like AC, I'm going to take the Giant List of Questions bit by bit.

Worst Books Ever, or Five Hours of My Life I'll Never Get Back

About three years ago, I identified the worst book I had ever read. It was a Harlequin romance from the early 1980s, featuring a white chick raised in the Indonesian Islands somewhere whose daddy complex transfered itself perfectly onto the only other white man available. Happily, he was rich.

Books I Have Lied About Reading

I lied about having read Wordsworth's Prelude. After my 16-hour delirious days reading the poem and correcting the papers, my supervising professor got a good laugh out of the idea that I wasn't intimately familiar with the poem.

Books I Have Lied About Liking

Finnegan's Wake. Educated French people can be really annoying about Joyce.

Book-to-Movie Adaptations Where, Frankly, the Movie Was Better

Maybe the Neverending Tale?

Books I Used to Love, of Which I Am Now Ashamed

Anything by Peres-Reverte. In 6th grade I thought Anne McCaffrey was awesome.

Best Book Titles of All Time

I'll go with Joy in the Morning, by Wodehouse, because that's a phrase now associated with a plot which always makes me happy.

Books That I Expected to Be Dirtier

Everything by Lawrence

My Real Guilty-Pleasure Reads, and Not the Decoys I Talk About Openly

a) my continuing quest to find single-volume fantasy, leading me into weird paths,
b) my continual amusement with workaday Regency Romances.

Books You Must Read Before You Die, but Would Rather Die Than Read

I swear, I am going to be mature enough to read through Faulkner one of these days.

Books I Refused to Read for a Long Time Because too Many (or the Wrong) People Recommended Them

This is so typical of me--to refuse to read a recommended book--and it's also telling that I can't come up with an instance. Ok. My sister kept recommending A Turn of the Screw for almost a decade before I was willing to read it. I still haven't read The Shipping News, despite all the personal recommendations.

Books I Read Only After Seeing the Movie

Pride and Prejudice. I was pretty young when I saw the Greer Garson version: maybe 10.

Books I Most Often Try to Persuade Other People to Read

I'm drawing a blank here. Empirically, the answer might be Wordsworth, Baudelaire, or Shelley.

Authors I Wish Had Written More Books Already

Well, among the living authors, I wish George R. R. Martin would finish up his epic already. Among the dead authors, I wish for just one or two more from Austen and Eliot, a whole second career for Brocken Brown, and a hundred years more life for Flaubert.

Overused Plot Points That Drive Me Nuts

I am tired of two-page prologues that pretend to set the scene for the rest of the novel. These tableaux and flashbacks have simply become another tiresome paranthetical. I have also begun to loathe novels that intersplice page-long POVs of the psycho-killer.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Jane Austen Book Club

The front pages of Karen Joy Fowler's novel The Jane Austen Book Club feature blurbs that amount to: "no, really, it's better than it sounds." And that much is true.

Simply described, this is a novel organized around discussions of Austen's novels, with the backstories of five women and one man responding to the novels' themes and the characters themselves all moving towards coupledom. I can imagine a version of that simply described novel that would be truly painful to read, and, indeed, Fowler's book is better than that.

Each of the characters finds a different, hastily sketched route into sympathy. Prudie, a married high school French teacher, grew up with a mother who fabricated memories for events she couldn't afford for her mother. Jocelyn, who arranged the reading group, has familiar memories of how being an attractive young woman can become terribly isolating. Grigg, the only man of the group, is ambiguously sexual, used to being controlled by women, and identified with science fiction fandom. Bernadette, the oldest member of the group, has the most innocent voice for her wild memories, the least social status during the novel, and the most wish-fulfilling conclusion. Allegra is a beautiful, adrenaline-junkie lesbian; she has recently split up with her lover and uses the book-group discussions to snipe at love. Last, there is Allegra's mother Sylvia, Jocelyn's good friend from childhood, a Latina Catholic who has also recently separated from her husband.

I may have to read the book again to figure out if there's much behind the occasional clever line and the sympathetically sketched characters. Then again, the book is due back at the library soon, and I'm not so very curious. Still: this was not a stupid book. That counts for something.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Shoes and the Soul

Out of the blue, my mother decided to send me a pair of these clogs. She did remarkably well: the color, style, and size are all great, even though I had never thought to desire clogs. Throughout my adult life, I've kept thinking I'm going to find the perfect shoe, elegant yet sturdy, fashionable yet hikeable---and so I've ended up owning a bunch of cute heels but actually wearing adidas aikido shoes. However, after a couple of days of walking around in these, I am ready to declare it: I was very wrong not to desire clogs. Simply standing upright in these shoes put some familiar, essential muscles back into line, and walking in them felt even better: more upright, more sane. It's February, and I want to wear sandals!


Dear Roommate: An Ill-Humored and Not At All Enlightened Rant.

You know I can hear you have sex. I can hear your bedframe crack and bang against the wall, I can hear the smacking of flesh against flesh, and of course I can hear the spanking. I can even hear you masturbate; those rhymthmic creakings of the bedframe when there isn't a girl around can be nothing else, now that you let the hard-core porn keep running on your laptop while I talk to you. I've got to wonder: do you do anything with your time besides have sex and masturbate?

I'm tired of the endless parade of random girls through the apartment. You won't have even washed the dishes from your encounter the night before a new girl wanders in. The last girl will still have her hair caught in the shower drain, and you'll be in bed with another. I don't like hearing you shush the more disposable girls out in the morning. I don't like my own desire to shake some of the more regular customers girls and ask them what the hell they're doing with you.

I hate the way that, immediately after sex, you stomp over to the kitchen, leave the freezer door open while you crack a bunch of ice cubes, and pour yourself and only yourself a big glass of ice water. Is the girl never thirsty? Do you never snuggle? Have you considered a pitcher of water next to the bed? Of course, it's even worse when the two of you take turns in the shower, immediately after sex, for the next hour and a half.

I also hate your special post-coital oatmeal, which seems to be the only food you know how to cook. Maypo, mayple syrup, cocanut milk, sweetened condensed milk, and sugar: that shit hardens into glue on the countertops, did you realize that? No, I know you don't---because you never clean up after yourself. And no, I don't want any of your special post-coital oatmeal, and no, offering me some doesn't make up for your eating all of my cookies and bread and all of our other roommate's chocolate.

I may notice more than I'd like to, but you're careless to the point of selfishness, and the walls in this place are paper-thin. Our elderly landlords, who live on the first floor, are unhappy that our apartment has seemingly become a flophouse or a brothel of some sort, and our lease comes up for renewal in the spring. I'd suggest you go to her place, but then a lot of your partners seem to be married or engaged or living with protective family members or in the dorms. Maybe I can convince you to turn pro. Call-out.

If the scheduling goes as planned, in a couple of days we're all going to sit down to sort things out. Ice cubes and post-coital oatmeal will not be mentioned.


Monday, February 05, 2007

Zombie Stories

I just finished Max Brooks's World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, ably reviewed by Amazon's volunteers here. It took me a night and a day to read it: in the middle of the night, I had to put it down and enter the inevitable zombie nightmares, and the next day, I hurried to finish it before I had to sleep. Despite the morcellated structure, the rapid-cut interviews with people from China to South Africa to Iran to Israel, the book moves. Every major country and culture has to encounter the zombie threat. Brooks credibly raises characters, who, from their specific cultural positions, can look back on the year the undead nearly destroyed humanity.

Don't laugh. There's something serious going on in Brooks's book; I suspect that it's something a little less charmingly global than my brief synopsis above could suggest, but it's serious, nonetheless.

For starters, Brooks's book invites specific political analysis; the US President during the Zombie War(s) is a thinly veiled, heroized Colin Powell, with Howard Dean, referred to as "The Wacko," as VP. Each country's policies are projected about four years forward. For IP wonks, some of these projections may grate. Israel is the first to understand the threat, retreats behind the '67 borders, abandons Jerusalem, and admits any non-infected foreign-born Jew, Israeli descendant, or Palestinian descendant (sparking a briefly invoked Israeli civil war). The Muslim world gets an even briefer mention: Iran tries to close its borders, but due to some miscommunication, Pakistan launches, and Iran responds with, nuclear missiles. And these globals tales end up being the more episodic elements in this episodic book; the narrative momentum in the war against the zombies takes place in America.

This is all too easy, and all too easy to criticize. What I think Brooks is trying to express is the recent sense Americans are getting that, well, we're not going to be on top of the world any more. The new challenges will probably not require the war-nerdly anti-zombie armaments that Brooks lovingly describes; I'm hoping that the new challenges won't require anywhere near this book's mortality rates or dictatorial quarantines. But this book taps into some usually submerged part of me that simultaneously fears and desires a showdown, a come-uppance, a change, a clarification, a meaning, a resolution.

Impatience and fear breed zombie stories.