James Geraghty has written a book, The Weed Agency, that is not a novel, but it is novel for our time. Like Pilgrims Progress, it is a message bulking up a short story, unlike because it is not an allegory. Like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, pointed political satire appears, but it is not purely fictional. Real people show up in the book. Bunyanish and Swiftian writing are still done stylistic, but not this sort of comic truth telling. The book reminds me most of the satire in Trollope’s parliamentary novels: it punctures pretensions of the age mixing fact and fiction.
If you are frustrated with the eternal life of some government agencies, this book tells you why this is so. Cutting an agency to most in Washington is equivalent to slowing down growth and both parties are guilty. Geraghty is a bi-partisan critic: Republican and Democratic budget cutters are corrupted (mostly) and good politicians who go living by their ideals after a few years are the “white buffalo” of politics: rarely seen, rarely effective in the change promised by their appearance.
Quite a few Republican leaders, real people, come across as manipulative and hypocritical: using Republican voters for their own personal glory and affluence. They do not mean what they say or are so full of vanity that they are easily distracted from the cause of cutting waste and fraud.
All of this might sound down beat, but the book rips along quickly: the knell of doom is sounded with an under note of cheer. Things are bad, but then they have been and will be bad: good men and women do what they can. To be a conservative is to muddle through and this book reminds you that small victories matter in the muddle: budget cutting has few longterm advocates, but the brave carry on the fight in any case.
Forget characterization: there are no characters, just types. Forget plot, the book is such a quick read, you don’t notice there is not one. This is an extended spoof, a Victorian Punch piece with the more limited vocabulary of the twenty-first century.
This book uses facts about Washington told in story form to persuade us to become constituents for a smaller government. He tells the truth, but leaves some hope: conservatives of the Geraghty sort are cheerful pessimists about government, but wise enough to know government is not everything. At least Geraghty is hoping government, especially the weeds of useless time wasters, does not become everything.
This is not a great book, but it is a good airplane book. Read it and leave your paper copy in the seat back. Read the ebook and loan it to a friend. Laugh at the folly, remind yourself to vote in the primaries, and give Jim Geraghty (a faithful news gatherer and punchy writer) some extra coin to do his job. Some sell out Republican, some middle level sycophantic administrator hates this book, buy it and annoy them.