Fire and Fury

It’s shocking to remember, but it was only a month ago this week that Michael Wolff’s White House exposé Fire and Fury was published. It would have been less than a month if things had gone according to schedule, but when the president threatened a lawsuit, the publisher did what smart publishers do and released the book early. It debuted at the top of the New York Times bestseller list.

Fire and Fury chronicles the election, transition, and first year in the Trump White House, from the viewpoint of a reporter given astounding access to the president and his senior staff. There are incredible (in some cases, literally not credible) accounts of the dysfunction, chaos, and grappling that surround the mercurial, miserable, McDonald’s-loving President of the United States. It is by all accounts a remarkable story.

At least that is what I heard. I did not read it.

Not because I didn’t want to. I devoured the first excerpt, “Donald Trump Didn’t Want to Be President,” which served as a tantalizing sample of Fire and Fury’s jolting, well-crafted drama. The villains are more villainous than you knew they would be, and the fools are more foolish. There are no heroes. But I had to resist the urge to keep going. I don’t need more villains or fools right now. No one does. Visit Twitter during any given hour and you will see the best minds of multiple generations lost in trying to prove that a circus clown isn’t fit to lead the most powerful country in the world. The matter appears to be settled. Those who want to take action should organize, turn out, donate and vote. But there is little to be gained from seeking out more evidence that things are bad in Trump’s White House. The fact that the revelations in Fire and Fury are now buried in the collective memory under Trump’s laconic State of the Union address, stock market volatility, the Nunes memo, a request for a military parade, and God knows what else has happened since this writing, is evidence that this is getting us nowhere.

If you really want to strike back at Trump, you could do worse than to simply ignore him and read a novel. Especially if that novel is filled with genuine fire and fury like Naomi Alderman’s The Power.

The Power depicts a world in which women spontaneously develop the ability to unleash electrical current from their bodies. As you might imagine, this changes things. The stories of abusers catching their comeuppance and sex traffickers facing retribution are a welcome fantasy escape from today’s regular reminders of the terrible things that happen to women.

But The Power is far more than a revenge fantasy. Styled as a speculative anthropology from a distant future, it’s thoughtful about the complications and confusion that would arise from something as drastic as a sudden reversal of the “laws” of human physical dynamics. This is the book’s strength, and its only occasional weakness — as when Alderman’s characters become stand-ins for sociological forces, or when she underestimates the chaos that would likely be unleashed so that she can still tell a story of a world resembling ours. Unfortunately, that resemblance is important. What Margaret Atwood said about The Handmaid’s Tale — that there is “nothing in the book that didn’t happen, somewhere” — is true in its own twisted way for The Power as well. Even the ability to generate electrical current has a basis in nature.

Unlike reading Fire and Fury, reading The Power will leave you with something more than what you had when you started. Rather than confirming things we already know, it forces us to question a broad range of assumptions, and the narratives we build around them. If nothing else, it’s a page-turning read that you will put some distance between you and the corrosive barrage of our current predicament.

Some much-needed time to recharge.

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