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by Nicholson Baker
Two men - Jay and Ben - sit in a Washington hotel room. Jay has called his old friend Ben there - to tell him why and how he wants to kill the President. Jay is a bit of a loser (he's lost his girlfriend, his job, his car), generally easy-going, but now he's on edge and he's angry - and he's acquired some radio-controlled flying saws, and is working on a boulder with a depleted uranium centre- but he also has a gun and bullets. Ben is the voice of liberal reason, with a job and a family. Jay switches on a tape machine, and the two men argue. Well, Ben tries feebly to reason or cajole, while Jay rants and rages about everything from the horror of what happened at that southern Iraq checkpoint where US forces opened fire on a Shiite family in a Land Rover, killing most of them, and decapitating two young girls; to the iniquities of the present administration, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al., and abortion (if they're against abortion, how come they can kill women and children?), not to mention the napalm-like substance ('improved fire jelly') used in bombs in Iraq. Their dialogue veers from chilling and serious to wacky and crazed (Bush, says Jay, is 'one dead armadillo'). Checkpoint is a novel about a man pushed to the extremes, by a writer who is clearly angry. Like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, it takes the temperature of America just below the surface and finds it at boiling point.
Chatto & Windus (September 1, 2004)
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