Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Empire of Lies

Empire of Lies, by Andrew Klavan, is a novel given to me by a friend who thought I should read it for my "read a book you disagree with" challenge. And I'm going to assume that he didn't read it before he gave it to me, because that's the most charitable assumption I can make about a person who would actually purchase a novel promoting lies, hate, misogyny, racism, lip-service-only Christianity, and sexual perversion. I haven't read anything I hated so much in years, and I'd like to destroy my copy so that no one else will ever have his--or her--mind stained by reading something so ugly and harmful.

Let me give you some evidence for my claims about how awful this novel is. The protagonist (I will not call him a hero!) is a self-proclaimed conservative Republican who introduces himself by describing his long-ago journalistic expose of corrupt government in his town for which, as he says "I was roundly despised by some of the best-educated and wealthiest people in town. Something about my uncaring, insensitive editorial policy. Elites hate to be proved wrong by the common man." Don't you love the name-calling? That's only the beginning. Oh, it gets better. Later he thinks "hm, I guess those dark-skinned angry-looking killers named Muhammed all over the world aren't radical Muslims after all....Hey, News-clowns! Tell the truth for once in your useless lives! Say the word! Say some word, Islamo-fascists! Jihadis! Something." Inevitably he progresses to calling all Muslims terrorists and seeking out people who also enjoy name-calling: "camel-jockey--rag-headed--dune-coon." The groups this guy belongs to just inform the ways he's despicable, rather than tempering any of his lunatic tendencies. Despite the fact that he fights against going crazy in the same way his mother did, by the end of the story this protagonist does not see the world the way most other people see it--which is one of the very definitions of insanity.

The Big Lie of the novel is that "anti-American, relativistic, multiculturalists...have...created a breeding ground on campus for hate-filled, violent, terrorist-sympathizing, anti-Semitic Islamic radicals." This protagonist wants all issues to be simple; he wants to boil them down to "good and evil," and he doesn't think about ideas, but merely feels. His reaction to attending a lecture is not to consider the ideas he's heard and weigh the evidence for them, but to have "an emotional response" and then--get this--to have a revelation: "as I sat there breathless and sweaty--then the thought came to me--as clear as if it were spoken aloud--spoken with absolute certainty, absolute conviction: Of course he's a terrorist. Of course he is."

The protagonist is so convinced by his own revelation that he later breaks the professor's kneecaps with a hammer in an attempt to get him to confess to terrorism. Of course, since this is a novel, the professor actually IS a terrorist and breaking his kneecaps makes it possible for the protagonist to save his own daughter from being blown up. I guess Klavan couldn't resist novelizing the traditional excuse-for-torture scenario. And the protagonist enjoys the torture: "but the thrill of it...Yes, that. The coursing rush of excitement, the old dark, mesmerizing sadistic joy--that belonged to me. Even at that moment, I could feel it flowing into my brain, into my belly and my groin. I could feel the old smoky sickness of lust and pleasure spreading all through me." Mr. protagonist thought he had given up sadism in favor of Christianity, but evidently not. Descriptions of the various kinds of sexual sadism he enjoyed in his younger days are detailed, and available for the reader's prurient interest.

The protagonist's misogyny manifests itself at first as a promise-keeper's twisted version of how to be a good husband and father. He wooes his wife by telling her that he's "the because-I-said-so guy, the head-of-the-household guy, that's me. Marry me and I call the shots. I'll break my butt to make you happy, and I'll try to give you the life you said you wanted. I don't cheat, I don't leave, and I am what I say I am." He soon shows his true colors, however, admitting that "frankly, I find the only way to avoid hitting women is to avoid women who need to be hit. Right then, Lauren needed a smack in the face, maybe a couple of them. I was itching to give them to her...."

If there is anything in this novel for me to disagree with, rather than simply be repulsed by, it's the exaggerated comic-book characterization of all college professors as uniformly leftist liberals who espouse political correctness and want to write articles like "Chador--A Source of Pride for Muslim Women." In fact, earlier this week--before I began to have my mind stained with oily residue from reading Empire of Lies--I sent an email note to an OSU professor of philosophy, Andrew Oldenquist, telling him how much I liked his recent article about why the U.S. should ban burqa wearing within our borders, and I got a gracious response.

I don't usually read a lot of non-fiction, although you better believe that the next few books I try reading to see if I disagree will be non-fiction. It seems to me that the promotion of hatred and fear in a novel like Empire of Lies is even more insidious than making the same arguments would be in non-fiction, because the author doesn't even have to attempt to give any evidence for his absurd claims.

Since I don't believe in book burning, I'm fantasizing about dumping this book in the toilet. Maybe I could take pleasure in breaking its spine with a hammer. Sigh. Or maybe I could just reread something better, like Cory Doctorow's Little Brother, to get the bad taste out of my mind.
Update: reading a book you disagree with is one thing, but reading seven over the next year is worth considering! I hereby subsume my little challenge into the better one at Shelf Monkey.

11 comments:

Sarah said...

Have you ever heard the phrase 'be careful what you wish for'? I think the friend took you at your word when you asked for a book you would disagree with. Just saying.

Jeanne said...

Sarah, I should have specified that a book I disagree with intellectually is different from a book that's totally disgusting. It's like the difference between playing devil's advocate and actually promoting evil.

Nymeth said...

Wow. I have no words. This books sound so repulsive in so many ways. And yes - Little Brother would be the perfect antidote to it.

FreshHell said...

Ugh. Yes, there are plenty of conservative professors out there. In fact, many of them are right here where I work.

How did this book even get published? I'd expect that kind of misogny and racism in something written 50 years old but now? Geez.

FreshHell said...

Ugh. Yes, there are plenty of conservative professors out there. In fact, many of them are right here where I work.

How did this book even get published? I'd expect that kind of misogny and racism in something written 50 years old but now? Geez.

lemming said...

Not hard to get such work published - and it says what a large number of Americans believe. Yes, that's scary, but it's true. Go out into the world and the majority of Americans have nasty thing to say about tenure and left wing academics. A taxi driver went into great length with me about why we should not allow foreign students to attend our universities, taking up spaces that "belong" to Americans.

thelass said...

Sounds hideous. And scary because as lemming points out, a lot of people hold the same opinions as the author.

FreshHell said...

Well, yes, I live in a bastion of conservatism so I'm aware of the opinions and beliefs but it seems so over-the-top mean spirited. Who is the publisher, I wonder. Has it received decent reviews?

Jeanne said...

Freshhell, the publisher is listed as "An Otto Penzler Book, Mariner Books/ Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Klavan has published ten previous mystery novels, so he has a following. I confess that although I looked up his blog (he urges people to listen to Rush Limbaugh) I didn't have the heart to look up other reviews.

Scrat said...

Although I am 6 months behind reading your review -- I am totally impressed with it! Have you read Corey Redecop's Shelf Monkey? Gather some friends and light a fire -- purge yourself of all the residual small minded thoughts promoted in that so called novel...ohh and invite the "friend" who spent his hard earned money on it....

Jeanne said...

Scrat, Yes I've read Shelf Monkey (and reviewed it a few months ago). Unfortunately, the friend liked something about the book. He kept trying to convince me that the odious main character was supposed to be a satire on people like that. I don't buy it.