- - Friday, August 24, 2012

By Christopher Buckley
Twelve, $25.99334 pages

You think the actual, real-life president of the United States has problems? Ha! They’re a walk in Lafayette Park compared with those of the fictional POTUS in Christopher Buckley’s latest satirical sendup, “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?”

All President Obama has to worry about these days is Nov. 6, 2012, but Mr. Buckley’s president — referred to throughout the book simply as The Big Guy — is faced with a potential global crisis of, well, global dimensions. Readers familiar with any of Mr. Buckley’s 13 previous novels, such as “Thank You for Smoking” or “Supreme Courtship,” know he chooses big targets, and that is certainly the case here with the United States and China fictionally pushed to the edge of war thanks to the devilish machinations of a major American aerospace defense manufacturer and its chief lobbyist, Walter “Bird” McIntyre.

McIntyre lives well at Upkeep, a small estate in Middleburg, Va. He works out of his office, a condo across the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, that he dubbed “the Military Industrial Duplex.” His biggest client is the giant aerospace defense company Groepping-Sprunt. When its pet project, a huge drone bomber McIntyre named Dumbo (coming up with lovable names for gigantic killing machines is why Bird gets the big bucks) is axed in the Senate, Bird is “tasked” (giant defense companies love to make verbs out of words that were previously quite happy to be nouns) with ginning up an international crisis with China, America’s best banker if not its new best friend.

Bird knows this relationship firsthand: “He smiled at the thought that just the other day an impersonal letter had arrived notifying him that Upkeep’s mortgage was now held by a bank in Shanghai. So if he wasn’t an authentic Southerner, he was at least an authentic American, which is to say, in hock up to his eyeballs to the Chinese.”

Recognizing the scope of the challenge, Bird teams up with the brilliant and dangerously sexy neocon Angel Templeton, founder and CEO of the Institute for Continuing Conflict. Think Ann Coulter on steroids or Ayn Rand reincarnated as a martial Angelina Jolie. The married McIntyre finds himself attracted to the divorced Templeton, but, initially at least, resists.

“Bird had never cheated on Myndi — well, okay, except for that one scotch-drenched night in Seoul with that woman from the helicopter company. And even if he was tempted by Angel, okay, he was tempted — but even so he knew perfectly well he was no match for Angel Templeton. She made the man-eating lions of Tsavo look like hamsters. She’d chew him up and spit him out in little balls of gristle.”

Bird may be a top drawer lobbyist, but Angel is a True Believer, and together they come up with a brilliant angle: Plant a rumor, false of course, that the Red Chinese have poisoned the Dalai Lama. I won’t spoil things by revealing the details, but soon after they leak the false rumor to Templeton’s oh-so-cooperative friendly newspaper, the Delhi Beast, it takes on a life of its own.

Mr. Buckley tells his tale in cut-and-paste fashion, moving helter-skelter among several main players. In addition to Angel and Bird, there’s Fa, the party chairman of the People’s Republic of China and general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (who is bedeviled by his Dr. Strangelovian hawks), Rogers P. Fancock, the Big Guy’s director of national security; Madame Chang, a possible double agent; and Bird’s lovely, short-suffering wife, Myndi, whose name Angel purposely forgets.

She says, “[Bird] and the wife lived in some sort of semi-grand house out in Horseburg, Virginia. The wife was a Muffy. A looker, but right out of ‘Town & Country.’ Probably wore white gloves during sex.” Myndi provides a subplot when she, an avid equestrian, qualifies for an international pre-Olympic competition to be held in, uh-oh, China — that is, it will be held there if U.S.-China relations remain relatively stable.

Unfortunately, Muffy’s — I mean Myndi’s — husband is doing his and Angel Templeton’s level best to destabilize them. The more successful he is, the more imperiled his wife’s horse competition becomes. Interestingly, Mr. Buckley makes Angel, tough as she is on the outside, more likable and vulnerable than Myndi, with whom Bird has no offspring, while Angel is raising her 8-year-old son, appropriately named Barry Goldwater Templeton, on her own.

Four years ago, in reviewing “Supreme Courtship” for this newspaper, I wrote, “Mr. Buckley is a very funny writer who comes up with novel situations — see previous books like ‘Thank You for Smoking’ and ‘Boomsday,’ among others — but his humor is of the very broad variety, with a lot more slap than stick.”

Based on the evidence in “They Eat Puppies, Don’t They,” I’d like to qualify that. His humor is still broad, but less so, and there are many genuinely funny scenes and observations. As Christopher Buckley ages, I detect more of his late father William F.’s wry-sly humor. Perhaps in time readers will even detect, between the lines, that mischievous twinkle and grin.

• John Greenya is a Washington-area writer.

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