Not The Puppies!
When a person thinks of political satire, what is commonly the first thing that a person thinks of? A political cartoon in the newspaper describing the latest policy change or a social commentator such as Jon Stewart come often come to mind. But political satire is a genre that is commonly found in every medium such as classic movies like Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and novels like George Orwell’s 1984. Though what makes political satire distinctive is the tone that is carried through the portrayal. Often enough, political satire falls on a spectrum from serious in context like the aforementioned 1984 to a more humorous approach such as Terry Gilliam’s 1985 release Brazil. Today’s book on review blends seriousness as well as insightful humor as it analyses the complex relationship between United State’s relationship with China. Let’s take a look at Christopher Buckley’s 2012 release They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? Fair warning, there will be some spoilers in this review.
About the Author
Christopher Buckley is a well known political satirist who is famous not only for his novels such as Thank You For Smoking and Boomsday, but has written for several different publications such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Time magazine. Alongside his writing, he currently works at Forbes as an editor.
The story of this political satire would follow a defense industry lobbyist and undiscovered author Walter “Bird” McIntyre, who is assigned by his boss and CEO of the defense and aerospace giant Groepping-Sprunt (A fictitious version of Northrop Grumman Corporation) Chick Devlin, to create a propaganda campaign against the Chinese in order to receive congressional approval for a new weapon system called the ‘Taurus’. Joining him would be the seductive Angela “Angel” Templeton, the neo-conservative director of the Institute for Continuing Conflict who wants to see the United States become more militarized. Together they create a rumor that the Chinese are trying to kill the current Dalai Lama, but when it is revealed that he is actually dying, events escalate to a near tipping point where the possibility of World War III becomes possible. The other half of the story focuses on the President of the People’s Republic of China, Fa Mengyao, as he tries to stop the accusations against him from the Americans as well as the militant members of the party from taking over.
On the whole, the story is actually great in the context that it keeps you going as events become more unpredictable for the characters as time goes on. However, the problem that I have with this story would be that towards the end, there are too many unanswered questions that can make a person sit there and ask “Wait, what about…?” At the end of the book, I had questions about some of the fates of the characters and what would be the end results. I am not sure if this is building towards a sequel or not, but it leaves some ambiguity. Another problem that I personally have with the story is that Bird and Angel’s story arc stands out more than the National Security Council’s or Fa Mengyao’s. I am not saying these are not worth mention, both of them contribute to the overall story but at points, it can be somewhat forgettable.
Throughout the different perspectives of the overall stories, there has been plenty of development for the featured characters, though some stand out more than others. Let’s take a look, shall we?
- Walter “Bird” McIntyre – A defense lobbyist working for Groepping-Sprunt who finds himself creating a campaign against the Chinese in order to get congressional approval for a mysterious ‘Project Taurus’. One of the more developed characters of the story, he actually goes through a progressive change as he becomes more involved in the campaign and feels remorse for what he is doing. Bird actually supplies a large portion of the humor of the story through his naivety during the first half of the book.
- Myndi McIntyre – The equestrienne wife of Walter, she eventually becomes a rider for the US Equestrian team to compete in the Tang Cup. Her character, while developed, is somewhat lacking in substance and distinction. She provides a sense of conflict for Walter as she is determined to be a part of the Tang Cup and acts overly protective of her husband. Judging from the book description, you would think that she would have a larger part of the story, but it is lacking.
- Bewks McIntyre – Bird’s brother and civil war reenactor, he helps Bird manage his home Upton along with the Fifty Sixth Volunteers. His character provides the secondary humor of the story as he tells Bird about his viewpoints of the political situation as well as what is happening at Upton such as Peckfuss’ crystal methamphetamine lab. It is sad to say that his character stands out more than other characters such as Myndi or Chick.
- Charles “Chick” Devlin – The CEO of Groepping-Sprunt and the mastermind behind the Anti-China campaign, he prompts Bird to help him get Congress to approve Project Taurus. Again, his character is somewhat underdeveloped and sparingly used. For a story like this, you would think that Chick would have a larger part even when the US was preparing to go to war with China, but for the most part, he is on the sidelines.
- Angela “Angel” Templeton – The seductive deuteragonist and devil in disguise, Angel’s role in the story as the ‘Directrix’ of the Institute for Continuing Conflict is well written and developed. From the beginning of the story, the reader knows who she is, what she is about and what she is willing to go through to get what she wants. She is portrayed as a neo-conservative who doesn’t want to see the US Military having its funding cut and sees Bird as an opportunity to get what she wants. It is often funny to read how she can go from a domineering woman in one section to a loving and overbearing mother to her son Barry in another.
- Rogers P. Fancock – The Director of the National Security Council who tries to keep the peace between China and the US. Truthfully, I was really hoping that his character would be like General Jack D. Ripper from the movie Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, but i was disappointed. His input into the story isn’t really noticed until towards the end of the story.
- Barney Strecker – The deputy director for Operations of the CIA. Like Fancock, his importance to the story isn’t fully realized until later in the story.
- The President – The President of the United States, who again, you would think would have a larger part in the overall story, but is scantly mentioned in the story.
- Winnie Chang – The Chairwoman of the US-China Co-Dependency Council and the hated rival of Angel, she tries to rebut the accusations that the Chinese Government is trying to kill the Dalai Lama. She works under Lo Guowei.
- Lev Melnikov – The founder, CEO and chairman of the fictitious internet giant EPIC who at the beginning of this book pulled his service from China due to a hacking attack. Like the President and other characters, he is scantly mentioned.
- Chris Matthews – A TV talk-show host that enjoys watching Angel and Winnie go after each other. I will admit, some of his comments are actually funny despite how little he speaks.
- Fa Mengyao – The President of the People’s Republic of China and the General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party. Often called ‘Cool Limpidity’, he tries to keep a calm demeanor throughout the book. He is easily one of the most developed characters as the reader learns about his past decisions and how it affects him through the course of the story.
- Gang – Fa Mengyao’s loyal aid and compatriot. Gang’s character as Fa’s aid is a nice balance to Fa, giving him relief and doing what he thinks is best for the president, even if it is drugging him with sleeping pills and amphetamines.
- Lo Guowei – The Chinese Minister of State Security and Fa’s opposition towards resolving the Dalai Lama situation. This character, despite how the book portrays him, comes off almost cartoonish in nature as he wants to kill the Dalai Lama.
- Han – The Chinese Minister of National Defense and Lo’s ally.
- Zhang – Fa’s Mentor and retired Admiral, he is working behind the scenes on a secret operation known as ‘Flourishing Vine’.
The Writing Style
I will give Christopher Buckley credit for his work on this novel and creating a well-written satire. He gives the most politically inept reader an understandable insight into the political workings of not just the United States, but China as well from how the leadership would act in a situation like this to how much influence the defense industry could have. It is also interesting how Christopher Buckley jokes around with the reader about the average American’s knowledge of Chinese culture. An example of this would be found early on when Bird tries to convince Angel to help him with his idea of convincing people that the Chinese tried to kill the Dalai Lama by poisoning him.
“The Dalai Lama is the one thing having to do with China that Americans actually care about. Human Rights? Zzzzz. Terrible Working Conditions in Chinese Factories? Zzzzz. Where’s my Ipad? Global Warming? Zzzzz. Taiwan? Wasn’t that some novel by James Clavell? Zzzzz. When’s the last time you heard anyone say, ‘We really must go to war with China over Taiwan’? But the Dalai Lama? Americans love the guy.“
Frequently throughout the story as well, Buckley would make jokes about American’s fascinations with pandas when Bird frequently tries to include them in his campaign from his idea of telling people that the Chinese killed a baby panda to extract an enzyme from its liver. Talk about panda-ering.
Bad pun aside, the humor is plentiful in this story from the character’s inner monologues to the conversations with each other. The funniest parts for me in this book would be Angel’s diatribes towards Bird and the Chinese’s misunderstanding of American references.
“I considered having sex with you. Then you pulled that cell phone stunt and revealed yourself to be a complete retard. And that’s one of my rules. I don’t sleep with retards.”
“By the way, what is this ‘hyperbaric chamber’? I do not understand this. And who is Michael Jackson? Does he truly sleep with monkeys?”
But as I mentioned before with the story, some aspects stand out more than others, which makes some of the book forgettable.
Christopher Buckley’s novel They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? is for what it is, a humorous take on the United States and Chinese Relations but it is a mixed blessing. While there are moments that are genuinely funny and though provoking, so parts of the story and characters are almost forgettable. With that said, I would still recommend purchasing this book for leisurely reading and enjoyment.
If you want to check out Christopher Buckley’s other works and lengthened biography, check out his website.