The day the first baby boomers began to retire in 2006, aka Boomsday, has sparked a generational struggle in Christopher Buckley’s latest satirical novel.
The day the first baby boomers began to retire in 2006, aka Boomsday, has sparked a generational struggle in Christopher Buckley’s latest satirical novel. The nation is facing “mountainous debt, a deflating economy and with 77 million boomers retiring,” the government is raising taxes on Americans under 30. Twenty-nine-year-old PR executive-by-day/blogger-by-night Cassandra Devine leads a revolution among the nation’s youth. Irreverent and far-fetched, Boomsday is a political satire that shines an unflattering light on the political maneuvering of the rich and powerful.
Protagonist Cassandra Devine’s greatest disappointments have been at the hands of selfish baby boomers. Upon admittance to Yale, Cassandra learns she cannot attend because her BMW-driving father has spent her tuition. Undeterred, Cassandra joins the U.S. military to earn money for college.
While stationed as a public affairs specialist in Bosnia, Cassandra escorts Congressman Randolph K. Jepperson on a fact-finding mission. Jepperson bullies Cassandra into letting him drive her military vehicle, an armored Humvee. Not hungry for MREs, Jepperson breaks the rules and drives outside the perimeter of U.S. operations in search of a Bosnian restaurant. At the restaurant, he and Cassandra attract the attention of nefarious locals and wind up in a high-speed chase. Jepperson drives into a minefield and hits a mine that blows off a portion of his leg. Cassandra sustains minor injuries as well as an invitation to leave the Army.
After a series of career twists and turns, Cassandra works her way up to partner at Tucker Strategic Communications. Cassandra’s blog, named CASSANDRA (it stands for Concerned Americans for Social Security Amendment Now, Debt Reduction and Accountability), urges the nation’s youth to stop paying taxes that support retiring baby boomers. Eventually, she promotes the “meta” idea of “voluntary transitioning,” a plan whereby baby boomers are given tax incentives to commit suicide at age 70 and perks if they do so earlier, at 65. Cassandra reasons:
“Our grandparents grew up in the Depression and fought in World War II. They were the so-called Greatest Generation. Our parents, the baby boomers, dodged the draft, snorted cocaine, made self-indulgence a virtue. I call them the Ungreatest Generation. Here’s their chance, finally, to give something back.”
Buckley builds his satire on stereotypes. He takes his first swing at women in the form of his protagonist, Cassandra Devine, pronounced “divine.” Cassandra is the predictable uber-woman, a “natural blonde, with liquid, playful eyes and lips that seemed always poised to bestow a kiss.”
In chapter one, Cassandra’s boss wonders why Cassandra is so politically driven (since she is beautiful), and why she doesn’t get a life, which he clarifies as, “why doesn’t she go out and get laid?”
Why would a two-dimensional female sex object even be aware of the implications of boomer retirement? Having set up that question, Buckley fails to answer it.
Buckley’s stereotypes do not neglect the rich and powerful, painting them as manipulative and selfish. With so many groups to alienate and only 318 pages, Buckley somehow misses taking a swing at Texas, the state many love to hate, and instead predictably punches Oregon, “the state that’s dying to commit suicide.”
Relationships between characters in Boomsday are loosely developed. Cassandra has a love interest (sort of) in Congressman Jepperson, who is flaky to the extreme. Her relationship with her father is completely unbelievable. While the reader can understand Cassandra’s anger with her father (after all, he squandered her Yale tuition money), one cannot understand the extent to which Cassandra’s father is willing to betray her. It is disappointing that nothing is ever resolved between Cassandra and her father. It is also disappointing that nothing more significant develops between Cassandra and Jepperson, although she does get laid.
Buckley is witty but misses many opportunities in Boomsday. Naming his protagonist “Cassandra” and emphasizing that name’s historical significance gives the reader unfulfilled expectations that this idea will be developed and will culminate with a “boom,” echoing the book’s title. Buckley’s cutesie acronyms such as the TATA (Transitioning and Tax Alleviation) Commission and SPERM (Society for the Protection of Every Ribonucleic Molecule) are entertaining. One pictures Buckley sitting up late scrambling letters around to make them fit. Forced and full of sarcasm, puns and weak shock value, Boomsday’s comedic timing is anything but sharp.
The greatest disappointment in Boomsday, however, is that little is done with “voluntary transitioning,” an idea ripe with satiric and comedic potential. Born in 1952, Buckley himself is a baby boomer, and although he seems to enjoy the paranoid fantasy of being cajoled into suicide by his country, he shrinks from exploring his idea’s full potential. No one commits suicide! Voluntary transitioning, an idea neglected by its creator, goes stale and fizzles out. Boomsday is boring.