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Hope Never Dies: a crime fiction, starring Obama and Biden

By Rosie DiManno • August 02, 2018The Bookish Life

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So, a shot-gun toting Barack Obama clocks a handcuffed biker across the head with the butt of his rifle.

This, after the biker won’t spit out the truth about a possible murder. I’m an American, I have rights! the manacled victim protests. “Not where we’ll take you if you don’t come clean,” retorts POTUS №44. “I hear Gitmo’s nice this time of year.”

All of which leaves Joe Biden slack-jawed with amazement.

In your dreams? Perhaps. But also in Hope Never Dies, a mystery novel sprung from the twisted mind of Andrew Shaffer, whose previous cheeky satires include The Day of The Donald: Trump Trumps America, and Fifty Shames of Earl Grey.

Satire is a tricky business to pull off. And Hope Never Dies isn’t, strictly speaking, a satirical novel. It’s a crime fiction, starring Obama and Biden — mostly Biden, the narrator — as a pair of amateur sleuths trying to solve what Biden believes was the murder of an Amtrak conductor, run over by the Acela high-speed train on route to Washington D.C. from Wilmington, Delaware, which of course the vice-president, pre-Obama era, represented for decades as a senator.

In Hope Never Dies, Obama is Watson to Biden’s Sherlock, although the character traits are transposed. Obama is cerebral and logical; Biden is bumbling and impulsive.

Together, they’re also trying to get their own bromance back on the rails, with Biden aggrieved that Obama has apparently scuttled their friendship since departing the White House, off doing adventurous stuff like kayaking with Justin Trudeau and windsurfing on Richard Branson’s private island.

It’s unknown if either Obama or Biden have cracked open the book which was released in mid-July. Whether they’d be amused by their re-imagining as a crime-busting duo. Although Hope Never Dies does entertain, cleaving closely to genuine facts while going all zany with fictive plot. Certainly Shaffer has a good ear for dialogue, the way Biden and Obama might speak to each other while untangling a mystery that puts them in a biker clubhouse, countless highway fast-food emporiums, the crosshairs of a corrupt cop and, at one point, a seedy motel where they’re forced to share a bed.

Seriously, it isn’t a lampoon.

“It’s not a parody of action movies or thrillers, and it’s not a satire of their politics,” Shaffer told the New York Times recently. “It’s just a mystery novel starring these two well-known characters, who just happen to be in the public domain.”

Most editors would tell the aspiring author not to try it, especially when those individuals are still very much alive. Thus this niche of a genre can’t be described as historical fiction. Too contemporaneous.

Taking excessive fictional liberties with bold face individuals who are still with us — apart from the widely plowed trope of authors exploiting their own families and friends — is…what? Creepy, exploitive, abusive? An invasion of privacy?

Certainly notable dearly departed have been resurrected in novels, perhaps most penetratingly by Hilary Mantel, who stood the accepted understanding of Thomas Cromwell on its head in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, fictionalizing key events and personalities against a landscape of meticulously researched history. Joyce Carol Oates chronicled the inner life — imagined — of Marilyn Monroe in Blonde. Shakespeare cannibalized history writing plays about monarchs, generals and Cleopatra. Michael Cunningham picked over the bones of Virginia Woolf, buttressing her writing of Mrs. Dalloway with her later suicide, in The Hours. And George Saunders spun off an anecdote about Abraham Lincoln over his son’s death — news reports at the time claimed he would enter the boy’s crypt to hold the child’s body — to produce Lincoln in the Bardo, winning the Booker Prize for his audacious “experimental” novel last year.

Taking excessive fictional liberties with bold face individuals who are still with us — apart from the widely plowed trope of authors exploiting their own families and friends — is…what? Creepy, exploitive, abusive? An invasion of privacy? In The Queen and I, Sue Townsend went the satirical route, visualizing a post- Republican Elizabeth II, plunking Her Majesty in a council flat in the midlands. Safe target because the Queen does not sue.

In a way, it can be argued that usurping a person’s life in this manner is tantamount to inside-out co-opting of intellectual property laws which protect an artist’s work. Can you own your life while you’re still living it?

In a world of exploding social media, the very notion of ethical privacy seems quaint. It’s freewheeling exposition. But a published novel surely is a different pot-boiler of broth and froth.

Who next to plunder as a protagonist? Maybe, if there’s a writer with the bones to try it, Justin Trudeau as a crime-fighting superhero: Mr. Metrosexual Avenger. A graphic novel. Or Hillary Clinton, bustin’ the bad guys, one deplorable at a time. Or that dynamic duo, Kate & Meghan: The Thin Women.

The dead can’t be defamed. But the living can apparently be appropriated.

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