A Novel Approach to the Pandemic

Is it too soon to joke about COVID-19? In his new novel, Christopher Buckley tests that proposition, and his answer is a darkly funny, if decisive, no.

Buckley’s title, Has Anyone Seen My Toes?, refers to the ubiquitous weight gain many experienced during the pandemic. My weight gain was not that bad (I could still see my feet while standing on the scale). But I must confess I have a few button-down shirts with clearly defective buttons.

How is it that one of our primary worries while living through a global pandemic is excess love handles? This book isn’t rife with gallows humor. Instead, Buckley offers implicit commentary about a modern America where, for many of us, the pandemic wasn’t (unless you count the psychological toll) all that desperate. To this charge, I plead guilty.

The unnamed protagonist is an aging screenwriter living with his second wife, Peaches, in South Carolina. He’s smart, creative, funny, and easy to identify with. But he’s also a man (who may be) slowly losing his grip on reality. Then again, after months of social distancing, who could blame him?

This construct invites many opportunities for humorous storytelling. And by making his main character a writer, Buckley empowers himself to tell multiple stories. The main narrative is more about style than plot. But there’s also the inner dialogue as the screenwriter both contemplates and writes his (generally cringeworthy) works of fiction. Some of Buckley’s most whimsical jags are delivered using this conceit.

Here’s one: Before moving to South Carolina, our hero’s first foray into the Palmetto State was an unsuccessful project called Swamp Foxes. It was something of a titillating tale about attractive female prostitutes who engage in licentious behavior for an admirable reason: to support Revolutionary War hero Francis Marion (aka, the Swamp Fox) and his band of revolutionaries.

Thanks to this flop, Buckley’s protagonist is forever labeled that “Yankee pornographer” who makes “titty movies.”

This reputation haunts the screenwriter, leading him to pursue a more sophisticated redemption project during the COVID lockdown.

His new idea is called Heimlich’s Maneuver, and the main character is a World War II general named (you guessed it) Heimlich. Heimlich is tasked with kidnapping Franklin Roosevelt (convalescing in South Carolina) and spiriting him back to Germany. Once in Germany, he would be ransomed in return for America dropping out of the war.

No, Heimlich isn’t a monster, our

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