It has been my recent experience that in order to drum up sympathetic feelings toward a member of the Bush dynasty, one need only spend five minutes in a room with Gary Bauer. After watching Bauer tell an auditorium full of teenage girls that he would expect them to give birth to a rapist’s baby, even Iran-Contra seems easy to stomach. For those fortunate enough to avoid personal contact with Bauer, however, Lydia Millet’s novel offers another opportunity to look at the world through blueblood-colored glasses.
Millet’s protagonist, Rosemary, falls for Bush père after she gets out of prison. “I’d forgotten that I lived in a country during my years inside,” she admits, and gets a crush on the man she calls “G.B.” while watching his inaugural address. She builds a crucifix in which the Christ has the face of Bush. And she engages in the kind of passionate and constant letter-writing campaign for which the Secret Service was invented. Anyone who thinks a woman would have to be crazy to fall for such a man would be correct. Rosemary is a lunatic. That Millet gives her the body of a fat woman and the mouth of a sailor is supposed to be funny, but souping up mental illness for laughs can be tricky, and the effect here is often an ugly wackiness. The book is sharp and funny line for line. But taken as a whole, the yucks are a little cheap.
Millet’s most sophisticated turn, however, is the way Rosemary’s questionable actions mirror the questionable actions of the president. “Like G.B.,” she points out, “I let my behavior grow instinctive and spontaneous. It was an act of solidarity: I went with my urges the way he went with his.” As Bush wags his finger at Iraq as the Gulf War heats up, Rosemary similarly taunts Girl Scouts selling cookies. As Bush bombs Baghdad, so Rosemary bombs her former workplace. It doesn’t take a village to realize that some forms of barbarous insanity—like war—are socially sanctioned, while others are not. Private citizens given to irrational behavior, violence, obsession, and self-absorption are locked up, whereas presidents get libraries built in their honor. Don’t count on finding this book at the Bush museum in Houston; it’s too over-the-top. As Rosemary says about the object of her affection, “G.B. is a man of taste and discretion, which is the one thing about him that’s un-American.”