“Mr. McIntryre,” Tierney said, putting his notepad on the desk, “now let me be candid. I don’t particularly care about Pan-Pacific.”
“To put it bluntly, another sleazy Washington lobby story is no longer front-page news.”
“Well,” Bird said, “I don’t know about ‘sleazy’, but if you say so.”
“My interest is Groepping-Sprunt.”
“Specifically, a project they’re developing for the Pentagon.”
“Keeping America safe by keeping America strong. It’s on the letterhead. Under the eagle.”
-Christopher Buckley, “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?”
Rating: 4 stars
Days to finish: 12
My first introduction to Christopher Buckley’s novels was back in college. It started with Thank You for Smoking and I devoured most of the rest of his work quickly thereafter. At one point (very briefly) I was an aspiring international relations major, and being a native of the DC area the drama of current events was something you had to converse in fluently. Buckley is the son of William Buckley Jr., founder of the National Review. He was also a speech writer for George H.W. Bush and became known outside political circles in 2008 when he endorsed Obama over the McCain/Palin ticket. Our politics are somewhat different but he came from a time where you could go have a beer with your opponent and have a productive, meaningful debate. We are now sadly past this era, and frustration with the current mode of operations is reflected in the way he treats Washington as a subject in his books, mostly by poking fun of Washington mercilessly. What sets Buckley apart is that it’s the kind of teasing you do when you still reluctantly care about things, even if they feel hopelessly awry.
In They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?, Bird McIntyre is a consultant for a large defense contractor and is trying to convince Congress to buy their latest and greatest. After a rough testimony he teams up with Angel Templeton (a character who can only be described as Ann Coulter if she actually knew the names of the people she insults), a pro-war lobbyist, to manufacture a fake threat from the Chinese to bolster American sentiment that Congress needs to increase defense spending. It’s both ludicrous and true to Washington form, and has enough threads of reality to be as scary as it is funny. Rounding out the characters are Bird’s wife, Myndi, who enjoys spending Bird’s money on new horses, his brother who has no other job than to reenact Civil War history on their large plot of land in Virginia, and his mother with severe dementia.
The narrative goes back and forth between DC and China, where President Fa is trying to placate the desires of an aggressive and manipulative cabinet. In parallel both Angel Templeton and the Chinese come up with the same goal: kill the Dalai Lama (who is of rapidly deteriorating health anyway) and blame it on the other country. For the DC crew, this would show how dangerous the Chinese are and how much we need to stop them. For the Chinese, this would prevent the Dalai Lama from returning to Tibet before dying, where the Chinese can take over the reincarnation ceremony and nominate a successor much more ‘compatible’ with their plans for Tibet. Each plan only works if they aren’t caught. The highs and lows of manipulating the unwieldy beast of public perception create an amusing roller coaster for both sides.
In some ways Buckley’s books are hard to review in depth because the themes are timeless and simple: people are crazy and reality is stranger than fiction. There’s no giant stirring of emotions but the witty back and forth dialogue is enjoyable if not downright hysterical at times. If you’re an amateur political wonk, Buckley’s entire collection is well worth your time.