Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page 163.
- Review Date: 2008-06-30
- Reviewer: Staff
Goebel's third novel (his first was The Anomalies), a tepid satire of contemporary politics in “Middle America,” hinges on Blue Gene Mapother, the heir to a vast fortune who prefers hocking his old toys at a flea market. After a mutual four-year estrangement, his family reaches out to Blue Gene, hoping to give his older brother John's congressional bid credibility among “working men.” Initially reluctant, Blue Gene is swayed by John's conservative beliefs and moves back home to begin campaigning full-time. It isn't until he meets Jackie Stepchild, a substitute teacher and revolutionary rocker, that he begins questioning John's motives. A serendipitous meeting with his former nanny leads Blue Gene to uncover a dark family secret and he quits the campaign. Spurred on by Jackie's leftist outlook—as well as his growing attraction to her—Blue Gene cashes in on his inheritance and opens up “Commonwealth,” a communal enterprise providing free services to the town's middle-class citizens. An abundance of homosexual slurs and profanity detracts from Goebel's crisp storytelling, and the uninspired spoof of red states feels stale. (July)
Yankee Doodle doo-doo
In his third book, Joey Goebel, author of Torture the Artist and The Anomalies, holds a funhouse mirror up to our national family's biennial reunion (aka congressional elections), framed in the microcosm of the Mapother clan, one of America's wealthiestand most dysfunctionaldynasties.
The story begins with an apocalyptic vision, when a seriously over-wound religious socialite sees her eldest son John as an instrument of divine intervention and persuades him to run for Congress to fulfill her prophecy. However, it seems that being the scion of America's elite has driven a wedge between the candidate and the common man, and the Mapother clan believes John's estranged brother Eugene "Blue Gene" Mapother, a mullet-wearin', trailer park-livin', Parliament-smokin' ex-Wal-Mart employee, can put them in touch with the masses (and more importantly, deliver their vote).
It all starts to unravel when Blue Gene falls for a pinko punk rocker going by the name of Jackie Stepchild, who is nobody's fool, and nobody's tool. Inflamed by the Mapother family hijinks, she turns brother against brother, mounting her own populist candidacy as the standard bearer for the newly formed Have-Not Party. Against the backdrop of that congressional campaign, not to mention our own, Stepchild's rhetoric rings out with refreshingly spin-free clarity:
"I agree that the United States is the greatest nation on Earth, but I also believe that it is the nation that has failed the most in living up to its own potential. Please write me in as your choice for Congress so that I might distract that almighty superpower from her incessant coddling of the rich and hold her attention for at least just a moment in order to say, psst. Hey. Come here. There are some people who I'd like you to meet who need you much, much worse."
Red state or blue, bleeding heart liberal or hawk-taloned conservative, Commonwealth will make you laugh, it'll make you scowl, but most importantly, it'll make you think.
Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles, many miles from our nation's capital.