The Ugly American Quagmire by John Harnish
I’m sure you’ve noticed that in opposing political issues, the various sides are quick to evoke their beliefs that what was written in the formation of the United States must have been intended by the founding fathers specifically to support their pointed viewpoints. Citing favorable constitutional writings and lawful rulings, they lay a contrived foundation to build their arguments.
At times the thrusts of the arguments are so tangled up in knots that the nine Supremes have the horrific task of sorting things out and deciding what’s what with what was originally written back then. Inevitably the dratful drafters of the Constitution are blamed for the vagueness in their confounding words.
At the stroke of midnight on the eve of the 113th Congress to be sworn into their elected offices, the patriotic spirits of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson manifest as energized forms at the US Capitol Building. Naturally, these supernatural visitors engage in a conversation about the current dismal state of the nation and its consuming quagmire that an overwhelming number of citizens have fallen into and can’t get out…
*I received a review copy from the author
John Harnish is known for his humor and his way of pushing the envelope, as seen with his self-published “The Immortalization of Fuck” in 1972.
One of his more recent books, The Ugly American Quagmire, fits this style. The whole 160 pages is basically dialogue between Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Harnish, who is a descendant of Ben Franklin, has written a piece of fiction showing what he speculates the founding fathers would think of the state of the U.S. today.
There is humor, such as when the two men are discussing the second amendment:
“The second amendment sure became an over controlling can of worms wiggling into a yucky mess over the individual’s right to bear arms issue—”
“See Thomas, I told you we should have specifically listed the acceptable types of arms private citizens can own, and we should have kept in that part you struck out prohibiting civilians from owning fifty-pound cannons for home protection. Blasting an intruder with a cannon ball at close range might be a bit of overkill.”
I think this book pushes the envelope in its own ways, as well. First, it’s a great example of how self-publishing gives author control. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any other book that is written entirely in dialogue.
Second, it’s a creative way to show what the founding fathers might think of the modern world. I like that it gives a brief overview of the history of the country between its birth and now, as well as some not as well known details.
Third, Harnish had free reign to write about issues he cares about. The chapter that interested me most was Chapter 18, which is about the changes in the publishing industry. It covers how chain bookstores and then Amazon shifted the industry, and how new technologies have allowed indie authors to flourish. There is also an overview of the DoJ suing Apple and five publishers for colluding on e-book prices.
I found that at times having just dialogue felt a bit much, but Harnish did a great job of covering such a wide variety of topics in a short amount of space. Sometimes I lost track of who said what, but both characters mostly agreed on the issues so in the end it didn’t really matter who was speaking.
The way the book ended was clever:
In an instant of twinkling sparkles they were gone, as the approaching dawn started to claim the sky of a new day. To answer Ben Franklin’s question at the birth of our nation centuries ago, the sun is rising on the United States of America.
At Independence Hall in Philadelphia, George Washington sat in a chair with a sun on top during the summer of the Federal Convention sessions, which led to the creation of the Constitution. At the end of the session, Franklin reportedly said, “I have often looked at that behind the president without being able to tell whether it was rising or setting. But now I… know that it is a rising…sun.
I think in the future Harnish could easily add on to this book with major events from 2013, or even update it yearly. It could be an interesting experiment.
Genre: Political Fiction
Published: February 2013, ~160 pages