Monday, August 6, 2012

Book Review: The Newts, by Matt Valenti

            I confess, I have a soft spot for political satire. Conservative, liberal, whatever, it’s humor that makes me feel sophisticated just for reading it. If you’re a fan of the genre—or if you’re a fan of the satirical story style of Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens—you’ll probably enjoy The Newts, by Matt Valenti. The story of a befuddled Tea Partier on a quest to save the USA may seem slow at times, but it always comes back to life with a quick quip that, I kid you not, made me laugh out loud.

One of the best book covers I've seen in a long time. Slicing amphibians in half works well artistically.

            The hero of this story, electrician Ed Wurlitzerbachermann, is the kind of man who dresses up like Sam Adams—“just like the guy on the beer bottle”—and makes heroic speeches to a splinter-splinter-group of the local Tea Party. Worried about the state of the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, he sets out on a heroic quest to the afterlife. His goal? Bringing Ronald Regan back from the dead, of course! Aided by Greek deity turned lobbyist Hermes, Ed journeys across Hades to the thriving metropolis of Dead City. Along the way, he meets both the victims of the foreclosure crisis, a trio of greedy ministers banned from Heaven, and the title characters—a Greek chorus of newts, whose songs represent the vicious side of American conservatism even as Ed represents its best.
            While Ed’s goal of returning Regan to life sometimes takes a back seat to the cast of colorful characters he meets along the journey, the humor makes most of the detours worth taking. I found my interest slowing a little as three ancient Greek politicians recounted tales of their careers—the author’s interest in Greek tragedy shines throughout the book—but when these three tales reach their peaks, each revealing an intrinsic truth about modern American politics, I cracked up. A graveyard where dead corporations are buried and the red furred Fox Newts crack past in quick succession—the pace of the story is one of the few things I had major issues with. Some incidents are too slow, some too fast. But by the time the book reaches its climax—a dramatic debate between Regan and FDR over which should return to the land of the living to re-assume the presidency—I couldn’t stop reading.

            Not that the book is perfect. As the author states in the preface, he was inspired by Aristophanes’ Frogs. The influence of Greek drama sometimes is pushed on a little heavily. The overt sexual innuendo from the god Dionysus can be funny at times, but intrudes rather heavily on the climax. Nevertheless, the humor can always be relied upon to inject new energy into the story.

            High points: The humor and wit. No one can say this book isn’t funny—it’s one of the funnier pieces of satire I’ve read in a long time, and satirical novels are very hard to write. The chorus of newts. These mischievous little dervishes always made me laugh. Ed’s Sam Adams suit. This constant costume is a massive symbol for the character’s patriotism and says something about the idealism in this story.

            Low points: The pacing. It can be too slow in some places and too fast in others—a little more editing might improve it. The sexual innuendo in the climax. It’s very distracting.  The epilogue. It doesn’t leave as much of a humorous punch as it could.

            Did I like this book? Yes. Would I read it again? Probably. Would I recommend it to people who like political satire? Yes. It’s a very funny story, written with wit, humor, and heart. My rating? In the political satire genre, I’ll give it three stars out of five. As a novel? Four and a half stars out of five.

--Liz Ellor, O43

You can download The Newts hereYou can also go here and purchase my book, Iceclaw.

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