The White House Mess

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The work “mess” in the title allegedly refers to the White House food service run by the Navy, but it more accurately describes the state of confusion in the administration of President Thomas Nelson Tucker, also known as TNT. As the narrator relates the many incidents and crises that mark Tucker’s term, the reader is introduced to members of the First Family as well as the power-hungry, back-stabbing entourage surrounding the President.

The First Lady is a sensuous woman who at one time performed in films, including one entitled “Minnesota Hots.” The First Brother, Dan, buys a half-share in a drug paraphernalia business, Opiate of the Masses, before converting to Islam and later moving to Michigan to live with the Bhagwan. The First Child, Tom, Jr., has a pet hamster whose disappearance has implications as serious as those of the malfunctioning of the presidential bomb shelter during a visit by Chancellor Schmeer of Germany.

Wadlough is supposed to be implementing the provisions of the Omnibus Infrastructural Metrification Educational Assistance Act but is constantly being sidetracked to handle various crises, including hitches in a summit meeting with Castro. The ultimate crisis revolves around the attempted takeover of a United States military base on Bermuda by a revolutionary group. President Tucker’s career is ruined when he has the audacity to use non-lethal gas to subdue the insurgents.

It becomes evident early in this basically well-written spoof that subtlety is not Buckley’s strong suit: Wadlough had formerly worked for an accounting firm called Dewey, Skruem, and Howe; a dealer in fine art is named Onanopoulos; and one chapter is titled “Estimations of Mortality.” This first novel, combining insider’s knowledge with a wicked gift for satire, marks Buckley as a talent to watch.