Tuesday, November 13, 2018
Books

5 fiction writers who've turned their attention to Donald Trump

He might not have intended it, but Donald Trump has been good for book publishing.

It has been well documented that reaction to his presidency boosted the sales of such classic novels as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and 1984 by George Orwell.

Nonfiction books about Trump — many of them critical — have dominated bestseller lists for most of this year. Michael Wolff’s scorching Fire and Fury has sold 2 million copies and been optioned for television, and Wolff recently announced he’s working on a sequel (though his White House access is pretty well shot).

Coming up this fall are a shelf’s worth of books by historians that reflect upon questions related to the Trump presidency, such as Michael Beschloss’ Presidents of War and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Leadership: In Turbulent Times.

Historians and journalists aren’t the only ones writing about Trump, though. He’s beginning to appear in contemporary fiction as well. Salman Rushdie was one of the first to put him in a fictional context, with a Trump-based, green-haired character in his 2017 novel The Golden House.

This year, the divisions and anxieties of the Trump era are part of the fabric of life for many fictional characters. Here are excerpts from several current and upcoming literary novels.

None of them cast the current president in a flattering light. Novels that do might be out there, but they haven’t crossed my desk yet.

Unsheltered

By Barbara Kingsolver (October)

Kingsolver’s upcoming novel tells the story of two families living in the same house, one in the 1880s, the other during the 2016 election campaign and its aftermath. One main character in the present day, Willa, takes her dying father-in-law for an outing.

"Even through his layers of fog Nick had gathered that his political hero was on the rise, winning primaries like a house afire. Nick liked to explain how right he was, on a subject Willa could no longer avoid by rolling her eyes.

"‘Look, Nick, I’m just going to say this one thing. The guy doesn’t do anything, he just brags about how great he is. He brags about shooting people on Main Street, for God’s sake.’

"‘Mom,’ Tig said.

"‘Probably should. Plenty a bastards out there need it.’

"‘Really. Except he’d get his hands dirty. He’s never spent a day of his life doing anything you would call work. I don’t understand why you respect him.’

" ‘Respect him ... he respects me,’ Nick said woozily. ‘Eat what I want, drive a big damn car and say what I want to ... n-----s and f-----s ... wear a biggest f---ing gold watch. No d----ass liberal telling me ... ashamed a getting what’s mine.’

"For thirty years she’d believed her father-in-law had no filters. Turns out, he could have been worse."

 

Lake Success

By Gary Shteyngart (September)

The novel’s main character, Barry Cohen, is a Manhattan hedge fund manager who runs away from his job and marriage after his young son is diagnosed with autism. During the 2016 campaign, he travels around the United States on Greyhound buses. On the night Trump is nominated at the GOP convention, Barry and a friend visit a bar in Atlanta’s wealthy Buckhead neighborhood.

"Most of the young people in the bar were talking about sports and their own bygone athleticism, but then a trio of pink shirts came in from the heat and clustered around the screen with Barry and Jeff Park. ‘Can you believe this election?’ Park asked them. ...

"‘Trump’s going to win by a landslide,’ the leader of the pink shirts said. He was the kind of guy Barry had gone to college with, only Georgian. ‘Everyone knows Hillary’s a liar. The folks up in Ohio and Pennsylvania, they sure know.’

"‘I agree completely,’ Barry said. ‘Lower taxes and less regulation, that’s my middle name. I’ve voted only Republican since I’ve been eighteen. I think Obama’s been a nightmare for this country. But I’m from New York, and honestly, Trump scares me.’

"As soon as Barry had said the last sentence, the pink shirts turned around in unison and left the bar. They just walked right out of the place without a word. ‘Nice going,’ Jeff Park said. ‘You scared away the Trump Youth.’?"

 

The Feral Detective

By Jonathan Lethem (November)

In Lethem’s literary detective novel, a New York Times reporter named Phoebe Siegler quits her job after Trump’s election and heads for California to search for a friend’s missing teenage daughter.

"The notorious day in November when my boss and all the rest of them sat deferentially with the Beast-Elect at a long table behind closed doors, to soak in his castigation and flattery, I conceived my quitting. At the start of the following week, I actually opened my yawp and did it, made a perverse stand on principle, stunning myself and those in range of hearing. The hate in my heart was amazing. I blamed my city for producing and being unable to defeat the monster in the tower. I already had my escape charted out, and I gave exactly zero of my accumulated mentors, or my parents, any say in the matter. For my thirty-three-year-old tantrum, I was patronizingly dubbed The Girl Who Quit. I think I won Facebook that day, for what it’s worth. I mean, of course, inside the so-called bubble."

 

The Golden House

By Salman Rushdie (August 2017)

Set in New York City, Rushdie’s tale of a family of wealthy immigrants includes a minor character who is a billionaire and "a vulgarian ... who liked to call himself the Joker on account of having been born with inexplicably lime-green hair."

"To step outside that enchanted — and now tragic — cocoon was to discover that America had left reality behind and entered the comic-book universe; D.C., Suchitra said, was under attack by DC. It was the year of the Joker in Gotham and beyond. The Caped Crusader was nowhere to be seen — it was not an age of heroes — but his archrival in the purple frock coat and striped pantaloons was ubiquitous, clearly delighted to have the stage to himself and hogging the limelight with evident delight."

 

The Female Persuasion

By Meg Wolitzer (April)

This novel about feminism in the lives of women of several generations takes place mostly during the Obama administration, but its final chapter picks up a few years later.

"It was one of those parties where you could never find your coat. Which maybe wasn’t the worst thing, because no one wanted to leave and go out into the world, which had changed so stunningly. Even now, years in, no one could get used to it; and conversation at parties still centered around the ways that no one had seen it coming. They just could not believe what had happened to the country. ‘The big terribleness,’ said a tall, spindly, and intense woman, director of online marketing at the publishing house throwing this party. She was leaning against a wall in the hallway, beneath a series of Diane Arbus photos, holding court. ‘The thing that really gets me,’ she said, ‘is that the worst kind of man, the kind that you would never allow yourself to be alone with, because you would know he was a danger to you, was left alone with all of us.’"

Contact Colette Bancroft at cbancroft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.

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