This is a story of a Peruvian who embarks on a two-month stint with an acting company, performing an invective piece called “The Idiot President,” a satire on a Latin American president, but obviously with wider metaphorical range, a potentially salient commentary on California, the USA, where his brother lives. It was a time when “delivering a line of dialogue with a chilling sense of dread did not even require acting.” The play is a sheer pleasure, making audiences tremble with laughter, none of which I can feel as the reader of this story.
I don’t dislike the story, but I cannot help being indifferent to it either. The tone is smooth and offers no resistance, which speaks for the narrator’s character. At first I’m bothered by too much telling and not showing, but eventually I give in to the false-memoir style, that reminds a little of Aleksandar Hemon, who incidentally used the phrase “idiot President” for George Bush in the first paragraph of The Lazarus Project. This short story, however, offers no treats language wise, or frustrated-intellectual notches in the narrative texture. Alarcón aims for something quite different, creating sentimentality that overshadows and partly cancels out the potential poignancy of a satire. To an extent, it is an admirable gesture, in that he doesn’t want to meet the stereotyped expectations. Perhaps he wants to show that satire has no political value, in the end. This does not help the story, on my view, since all other potential complexities of character feel too innocuous. Besides, nothing in it keeps me from thinking, it is just another story about an artist-satirist who will have to leave homeland only to enter a country where political satire is a civil right, where there is an overkill of it, but where it has no effect whatsoever.
Daniel Alarcón has been praised for his two books War by Candlelight and Lost City Radio. I haven’t read those, but I’ll do it and see what happens.
Read the story here.