As if the Republican primaries leading up to this year's presidential election weren't quite farcical enough, longtime Westword contributor and cultural critic Jason Heller has ripped William Howard Taft from the last day of his presidency in 1913 and sent him Rip Van Winkling headlong into the 21st century in Taft 2012, a debut novel satirizing political times that have turned out to be even more ludicrous than the farthest-fetched science fiction and fantasy on which Heller cut his teeth.
"Actually, I don't know if it's really any different than the way it's always been. There's always been that circuitous, duplicitous, rhetorical fuckin' flim-flammery that politicians have always used," says Heller, reflecting on the Republican race that has already seen the coming and going of Herman Cain and Michele Bachmann and the upping and downing of Newt Gingrich (himself a writer of what-if alternative-history fantasies), Rick Perry, Rick Santorum and the rest, each detached from reality and historical fact in his or her own ways -- and pale shades, all, of the Progressive GOP of "Big Bill" Taft's day.
Heller cites Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle, Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court and Ray Bradbury's presidency-altering butterfly-effect tale A Sound of Thunder as touchstones for his novel, which he'll be reading from at 7:30 p.m. to-night at the Tattered Cover, 2526 East Colfax Avenue. And in a distinctly 21st-century twist, he has managed to bring Taft's voice to life in 2012: Thanks to Heller and the modern miracles of Facebook and Twitter, the former president has been opining on the events of our day in real time, living beyond the pages of the novel itself.
"Taft was one of those people who really believed that honesty is the best policy -- of course, that came back to bite him in the ass in real life, during his actual term as president -- but I think that makes him an impartial critical observer, in a weird way, of our own times," says Heller. "When you take someone like Taft out of time, out of place, and uproot them like that, it gives you a wonderful juxtaposition of context, and it gives Taft the ability to be even more honest about what he sees."
Tue., Jan. 17, 7:30 p.m., 2012