A well-woven farce within a farce
Calls to prayer sound off with derisive omniscience, echoing through a diplomatic station situated on, in front of, or perhaps somewhere closely behind the front lines of the War on Terror. There’s no place for logic in an ideologue’s world, we’ll soon learn.
In B.A. East’s Two Pumps for the Body Man, a farce within a farce, we find ourselves strangers in a strange land—although the most unfamiliar features belong to the people and machinations of our own government.
East writes, tongue appointed firmly in cheek, as someone who experienced the bureaucracy and doublespeak of the service firsthand, introducing us to diplomats and servicepersons who are subject to, or complicit in, the gears of the WOT. Their sensibilities range from vainly ambitious to hopelessly carnal and flippant, but each unique layer of pathos is disseminated with patience and dexterity, not unlike a report from an ambassador’s trusted advisor.
As outsiders sitting behind walls, barbed wire and panes of glass, all our characters know are shrouds and faceless silhouettes. The whispers of intel they gather are flawed at best and comically manipulated at worst. As readers engrossed in a great work of satire, we can empathize.
A satirist’s world is one of its own unyielding ideology, much like the Kingdom our characters find themselves stationed in. Like them we are logicians desperately trying to make sense of it all, and it’s only when we give in to the madness of the WOT that we can find peace.
It’s a spare, precise, astute reflection of what I was trying to accomplish. As such, on its face the review gratifies. Then I learned the reviewer’s identity: a former student of mine at the American School of Asuncion in Paraguay. Bruno Passos, his classmates, and I together toured the vast landscape of American Literature and Composition from 2001-2002. We were in the same place on 9/11 and during the strange first weeks and days of the War on Terror.
And there they were, Bruno’s words, reflecting back to me the things I’d hoped to teach, and the things I’d learned years before from Barry. In the very existence of Bruno’s review I found the lesson Barry meant to impart through his own example:
For most of my life in reading, writing, and teaching literature I have lived with the assurance that I am also living literature. The books that form the central core of my aesthetic vision have also been those that inform my life ethic, encouraging and enabling me by their example to make meaningful existential choices, to flesh them out in my actions, and to live with the consequences.
Here was wadding for the void. Here was assurance that classroom exercises in literature hadn’t been for naught. The circle had come full-way around. Hemingway, Mailer, Kesey, Leeds, all may have left us. But they’ve left us with great gifts to pass along.
(Find Bruno’s insightful sports writing at Poundingtherock where he makes regular contributions to basketball lore about the San Antonio Spurs.)