Emperor of America | Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Emperor of America.
This section contains 841 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

SOURCE: "A Twisting Road of Humor to an Imperial America," in The New York Times, February 14, 1990, p. C19.

In the following review, Mitgang reviews Condon's strong political opinions in Emperor of America, "even if they come across like rabbit punches."

Who would dare to combine the styles of the Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor, more or less, and invent a character who heads the Royalty Party, not in Naples but in the United States? None other than Richard Condon in his latest sendup of the American scene and Presidency.

In Emperor of America, his 23rd novel, Mr. Condon is a little more hortatory than usual. He seems to be warning readers against electing a kingly ruler, as Sinclair Lewis once did in his cautionary anti-dictator novel, It Can't Happen Here, about a flag-waving general in the White House. Mr. Condon obviously aims to be serious, but he can't help it if his writing is outrageous. He keeps putting English on the eight ball, giving his story screwy turns.

Emperor of America is written with a wink and a smirk and the confidence of an author who has resolved that he's not going to hold back his strong opinions, not at his exuberant age of 74, even if they come across like rabbit punches.

Without giving away every detail of the convoluted plot, it can be revealed that Mr. Condon is not an admirer of the former President and First Lady, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, who play more than cameo roles in his satire. He doesn't even like their pet, whom he calls a "dear little rented dog." They are mentioned at least a dozen times during the establishment of the fictional imperial presidency.

The time is March 18, 1990. At 11:04 A.M. on that day next month, a nuclear device is exploded in Washington, wiping out the District of Columbia and evaporating 1,397,200 people. The catastrophe causes the White House to vanish, demolishes the Capitol and destroys every national building but the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency. The Royalist Party shares responsibility with the National Rifle Association for causing the atomic explosion.

Afterward, news is sent out by the television networks in the form of daily mass exorcisms that were started, Mr. Condon writes, "by the Reagan Administration (1981–1989): the constant moral bloopers; the Grenada mockery; the Lebanese disasters; the Iran-contra scandals; the Persian Gulf debacles; the Libya fixation; the Supreme Court appointment messes; Congressional committee exposures; the charges, arraignments and indictments of high Federal officials beyond any count of corruption in White House history."

Here is the country's mood after the bomb: "The Royalists had best access to where the American people lived; that vast diamond-bright area of daytime television and prime-time soap." He continues, "The Reagan Administration—that shining definition of reigning glamour and romance associated with queens, big money, great dressmakers, great poverty, colorful (moderate) mullahs, glamorous (if shocking) scandals and entertaining South American drug lords—had overtaken the national imagination of a society which had been compartmentalized by money." Naming names, "The yuppie virus, which had been fed by the decade of Ron and Nancy, the bull market and eight unrelenting years of political fantasy, struck as AIDS had struck."

But follow the money and the military. How does an Army colonel, Caesare Appleton, become the first Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the United States and then Emperor Caesare I? Blame Nicaragua, which the author calls "an evil empire," for his rise to power. With breeding techniques, the Sandinistas swell their population from 3 million in 1980 to 21 million people, "almost all of them fierce males who wanted to invade and occupy the United States, rape the flower of American womanhood, desecrate the flag and ban the Pledge of Allegiance from all American schoolrooms."

Colonel Appleton beats the Sandinistas on the battlefields of Portugal and Southeast Asia, becomes a national hero and takes over as a Royalist. It helps, of course, that his manipulative mother gets him to sign up with the William Morris Agency to make money and a name for himself.

In case of doubt about how Mr. Condon feels about the former President some of his characters pause now and then to emphasize his views indelicately: "Ronald Reagan was the greatest President this country has ever produced. He gave us the F.B.I. race wars, the Qaddafi bombings, the 'Star Wars' flapdoodle, the Grenada farce, the Bitburg shaming, the endless bank failures, the Lebanon disasters, the crumbling national airlines, the rape of HUD, the oligarchy of Big Oil, insured inflation and the shoring up of sinister Israeli politicians—all to keep our people diverted and entertained until the Royalty Party could consolidate its position."

And that's not all. The novel also includes cocaine, rape, the mafia, abortion, a House of Lords in Dallas (where the author lives), sibling rivalry, momism and a huge statue erected on Government grounds to former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. By the end of Emperor of America, Mr. Condon has had more fun than anybody; most of the time his humor is wild enough to work.

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This section contains 841 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang
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