One chapter book reviews: The Propheteer, chapter six

Perhaps more than any president in recent memory, and like so many truly terrible people, George W. Bush was fond of playing up his godliness -- apparently, if you fold your hands and screw up your face like you're solving a Rubik's Cube for long enough, that'll get you the votes in the heartland. And most certainly more than any president maybe ever, Bush laid it on thick; anyone remember when he said God told him to invade Iraq? Golly, he was like a regular prophet. That's pretty much exactly the conceit of Jason Coe's The Propheteer, which hilariously reimagines Bush as a Christ-figure espousing the wisdom of imperialism and good old American avarice.

Get it? The title is like a portmanteau between "prophet" and "profiteer." And even though that particular portmanteau was copped before by some snowboarding website where it doesn't even make sense, in this case, it's pretty brilliant -- a clever turn of phrase that so accurately captures the content of the book that it's easy to wonder if Coe maybe came up with the title first and then went from there.

Whatever the case, here's how Coe sets it up: It's Bush's last day in the White House, but before he goes, he dispenses some pearls of Jesus-y wisdom, Sermon on the Mount-style, to his sycophants (think Karl Rove, Antonin Scalia, the ghost of Charlton Heston, et cetera), which Coe presents as disciples.

As far as one chapter book reviews go, this one was fairly easy to digest: All the chapters are set up like parables, where the "disciples" ask a question, and Bush answers it in a sort of roundabout way -- the one I read was titled "On Work," and it's pretty much exactly that. To that end, it probably helps to have some kind of biblical background to get the joke, but even without it, it still probably works. Let's take a look at an example:

Then a Halliburton executive said, speak to us of work. And he said:

When you can enlist in the National Guard and not show up for duty, you shall.

When your father's friends make you a figurehead on boards of directores, you walk in with a firm step for the boardroom When you bill for services in Iraq that you never perform, send your invoices directly to me.

And so on. But just for shits, let's take a look at another one. This one's my favorite:

Always have you been told that your curse by birth is to watch others work for your betterment and wealth. That their sweat and pain shall be your surrogate. But I say to you that in your watching you fulfill the Earth's ancient need for masters. And someone must be as master, just as another must be as wage-slave without health insurance. By your humble concession to this order do you give yourself over to the breadth of the living and become as oil to a machine or as filling to a Twinkie.

As a conceit, it's admittedly kind of a one-trick pony, and it has the potential to wear thin after a while. All the same, the book also clocks in short -- you could probably read it in about an hour and a half -- and one guesses the joke could sustain itself for that duration. Besides, as a joke, it's spot-on: Coe nails the combo between self-righteous condescension and vapid pandering that made the Bush administration so annoying, and his sly contemporary references within his adoption of that oh-so-droning New-Testament tone are hilarious in a dry-as-a-bone kind of way.

If there's one problem within Coe's portrayal of Bush-as-pop-prophet, it's that Bush never came across so smart.

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Jef Otte
Contact: Jef Otte