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Tom Chaney No. R719. Review of A Heckuva Job

Of Writers and Their Books, A review of Calvin Trillin's Heckuva a Job First printed 16 July 2006.
The next earlier Tom Chaney Of Writers and Their Books column,Robert Worth Bingham

By Tom Chaney

A Heckuva Job

One of the differences between a used book store and a library is that the book monger gets to select the category that he thinks best fits a book without regard to the intent of either author or publisher.

Should you come looking for a book in our shop, you might find a book by Dan Quayle in the section on 'bird hunting.' Certain political autobiographies are classified in Horror. And certain eschatological novels are surely in the realm of fantasy.

Calvin Trillin is firmly and irrevocably in the Kentucky section although he is a native of Kansas City, a graduate of Yale, and a denizen of New York City. But when it comes to the Bookstore, he's a Kentuckian.This classification comes about because of his perspicacity in selecting some Kentucky topics for his major work.

In Alice, Let's Eat he records his 1977 trip he made with missionary zeal to rescue the culinary reputation of the Commonwealth from the clutches of Colonel Sanders. With help from serious Hart County eaters, he found Mrs. Porter's country ham in Sulphur Well; Lee Davis' fine fried chicken at the Mammoth Cave hotel; and barbecue in Owensboro.

The Orwellian year of 1984 found Trillin back in Hart County to chronicle the misadventures of a noble band of brothers who sought to expand the agricultural offerings of Cave Country and to report on the quality of storytelling in these parts. That account may be found in his American Stories.

Later on he chronicled the saga of the computer mouse at Horse Cave City Hall. The mouse had squoze in a crack in the case of the computer and left both liquid and solid calling cards behind -- causing much consternation on the part of the city clerk.Alas, Mr. Trillin has not returned to these parts for some time. That does not mean that he has been silent. He writes for The New Yorker, Time, and The Nation. He frequently is heard on National Public Radio.

Over the past several years Trillin has become the poetic voice pillorying the current administration -- whosoever it may be. "I've said that each presidential administration makes me nostalgic for the administration that preceded it."

His latest book, a HECKUVA job: More of the Bush Administration in Rhyme (Random House, 2006) follows his earlier volume Obliviously On He Sails. Trillin comments philosophically about the earlier attempt, "We weren't going to know whether you could bring down a presidency with iambic pentameter until somebody tried it."

Bush is still in the White House despite rhyming couplets.

The title a HECKUVA job refers to President Bush's phrase in praise of Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency during the Hurricane Katrina debacle, who had risen "to the challenge . . . [with] stunning ineptitude." "Perhaps the only federal official more dilatory than the President himself."

On the idea that the problem is government:
'Cause government's the problem, lads.
Americans would all do well to shun it.
Yes, government's the problem, lads.
At least it is when we're the ones who run it.
And in support of the decision to go to war:
Then terrorists could count on what we'd do.
Attack us, we'll strike back, though not at you.
The war must be continued:
Iraq is coming right along.
We're confident we'll win this war.
The way to honor lads we've lost
Is stick it out (and lose some more).
To insure the promise of democracy in Iraq:
Democracy is on the way.
We smashed this place to free it.
Democracy is on the way.
You'll know it when you see it.
And "The short history of someone who failed to get into the champagne unit of the Texas Air National Guard in 1968"
Historians may not recall
My name, now chiseled on that wall.
Still, they might say I played a role
By going on that last patrol
And not returning to my base:
I might have died in Bush's place.
Satire is fierce. It is intended to make us uncomfortable. Trillin is a witty thorn in the nation's side.

Tom Chaney can be found telling stories, planning his next meal, and occasionally selling books at

Box 73 / 111 Water Street
Horse Cave, Kentucky 42749. Phone (270) 786-3084. email: Tom Chaney

This story was posted on 2011-07-17 06:17:23
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