Political fictions are far too much about lately, spewing from spokespeople and pundits alike, bald-faced, cowardly, obfuscatory. Good political fiction is a rarer commodity. These 29 stories by many well-known talents (ZZ Packer, Anthony Swofford, Charles Baxter) are all overtly and bravely grounded in “recent events,” from the war in Iraq to the Patriot Act.
The writers are brave because they are overt, taking the risk that by naming Ashcroft or Uday they will remove the breathing room that fiction needs. And yes, didacticism is here, and humorlessness, and poorly concealed rage. The duller stories share a single setup: bad marriage at home, bad news on TV. But the majority succeed like poems in a small space, capturing a moment or unfolding a single, devastating metaphor: Thus the protagonist of Nasri Hajjaj’s “I Believe I’m in Love With the Government,” translated from the Arabic, slaughters his entire family and presents them to a dictator in his palace.
Most startling of all is a short prose piece buried in the middle, “I Am a CBU-87/B Combined Effects Munition (CEM),” by David Rees. Not only does the story address the feeling of involuntary personal weaponization so many Americans experience today, who would have guessed the foul-mouthed creator of clip-art comic Get Your War On could produce a meditation of such intense lyricism?:
Who’ll drop me? My research leads me to this answer: Some big-ass plane, probably gray, enjoying a very severe elegance. Hello, plane, are you ready to enshadow some foreign landscape beneath your wings?
Also priceless is a piece by dominatrix Mistress Morgana, convincingly depicting the proclivities—whipping, nipple torture, chocolate syrup—of recognizable figures known only by their first names, from Martha to Kofi. It may be fictional, but in today’s climate, the truth is probably filthier.