Seth Greenland’s timely novel is a smart and darkly amusing dissection of the American political establishment in all its sordid glory. Set in the hardscrabble California desert community of Desert Hot Springs and the manicured enclave of Palm Springs, the novel lives at the intersection of the political disarray of today.
In this sun-blasted territory, with its equally arid culture, a fiercely contested congressional election is in progress. The wily incumbent, Randall Duke, is unburdened by ethical considerations and his opponent, Mary Swain, is a sexy and well-financed newcomer who does not have a firm grip on American history or elemental economics.
As election day nears, the exploitable backgrounds of these two candidates are teased out by the desire to one-up each other. The campaign gets carried away when the personal escapades of friends and family spill over into the election, including lesbian love triangles, and sudden spiritual enlightenment.
“A wild entertainment as well as a novel about the way we live now that dares to dance with the profound.”Los Angeles Times
“The Angry Buddhist approaches all its characters with reliable misanthropy (not for nothing does Larry David provide this book’s most visible blurb). And its story unfolds with dexterous ease . . . A fine, high-end beach read for this election season.”The New York Times Book Review
“A novel about three brothers, The Angry Buddhist is a steamy mix of murder, matching manga kitten tattoos, and a fierce congressional election.”Lion’s Roar
|Publisher:||Europa Editions, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.20(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Seth Greenland is the author of the novels The Bones and Shining City. His first play, Jungle Rot , was the winner of the Kennedy Center/American Express Fund for New American Plays Award, the American Theater Critics Association Award and anthologized in Best American Plays. He was a writer-producer on the Emmy-nominated HBO series Big Love and one of the original bloggers on the Huffington Post. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and the literary journal Black Clock. He lives in Los Angeles with his wife and two children.
Read an Excerpt
In the desert the sun is an anarchist. Molecules madly dance beneath the relentless glare. Unity gives way to chaos. And every day, people lose their minds.
But you wouldn't know this in Palm Springs, California. A hundred years ago a wasteland, home of the Cahuilla Indian tribe and a handful of white settlers who had relocated to this desolate outpost from points east. Today a golden oasis drawing privileged tourists from cooler climates in search of sunshine, clean air, and a place apart from the rest of the world. In air-conditioned cars they cruise exclusive neighborhoods gaping at perfectly restored mid-century modern homes that cling to the inhospitable land. The verdant lawns are neat as graves. The streets are quiet as Heaven. You would think nothing ever happens here.
You would be wrong.
On a heat-blasted afternoon in late October Jimmy Ray Duke positions himself to the side of a political rally in the Save-Mart parking lot just off the Sonny Bono Memorial Highway. Average build, dressed down in a loose black tee shirt, green cargo pants, and running shoes. Behind dark sunglasses his bloodshot eyes regard Harding Marvin, Police Chief of nearby Desert Hot Springs, who stands gun barrel straight on a riser that makes his six-foot four, two hundred and forty pound frame appear even more imposing. Shaved head looming over a dress blue uniform, Marvin, known to one and all as Hard, is energized as he steps to the microphone in front of nearly a hundred people. Jimmy has listened to Hard speak innumerable times because he used to work for him.
"Election Day is one week from tomorrow," Hard booms, perspiration running in rivulets down the side of his broad face. "And on that day we're going send some new blood to the United States House of Representatives. We're going to send a message to the elites that the same old same old doesn't cut it any more. We got the other side running scared now. Well, they can run ..." He waits a moment for the expected cheer that materializes on cue. Jimmy watches as Hard lets it caress him like the supple hands of a Thai masseuse. The Chief concludes with the inevitable words about the opposition's inability to conceal their whereabouts. The appetite for recycled hokum at political rallies being bottomless, the cheer momentarily reignites, before Hard proclaims, "This is someone who supports a strong defense, supports a strong dollar — and as a law enforcement officer this is particularly important to me — she is a supporter of the death penalty." The crowd loves this and another cheer blooms then subsides back into percolating anticipation. "It's a great pleasure to introduce a gal who is gonna kick butt from here to the other side of this great country. Ladies and gentlemen, she's hell in high heels" — more shouts and whoops. This is an image they love, hell, fancy shoes, the cloak of religion pierced with stilettos neatly summing up the exploitable duality. Then: "Give it up for Mary Swain." Hard steps back with a flourish and leads the applause.
She glides to the microphone and Jimmy notes the burnished skin, the blinding smile, the five hundred dollars worth of blond highlights, fitted red blouse set off against the matching white linen skirt and jacket that wrap her like cellophane. Then he envisions her without any of it. Which he knows is the whole idea.
Mary Swain thanks Chief Marvin then turns to the crowd and says, "What a great day in the American desert."
Signs wave adorned with her name, cell phones are held skyward, people taking pictures. Jimmy wonders how any sane person could come out to hear a politician talk on this scorching afternoon. Breathes deeply, tries to relax. He has been attempting to meditate lately and to this end has been struggling through books about Buddhism. Exhausted from another bad night's sleep, he's here for a reason: to practice seeing life clearly without an emotional charge on his way to liberation from suffering.
Jimmy watches the show for the next twenty minutes as Mary Swain performs with a mixture of stories, jokes, and fire, pulling, tweaking, and working the crowd into a supine mass of quivering optimism. Her voice is friendly, homespun. It invites you in, asks you to sit down and pours you a cup of coffee. It confides in you, says you and I are friends. It says you, the voter, have an ally as beautiful and shapely as I and together we will share the bounty with which God has gifted us. She learned this flimflam from her husband, a master of the high-end grift. Shad Swain became rich selling sub prime mortgages to bad loan risks then bailed before the con imploded. They met ten years ago when Mary was working as a stewardess on his Gulfstream 6 and now have four photogenic children.
My opponent went to Washington and forgot about you, the people who sent him. After I win, we can all forget him, but I won't forget you, the real Americans!
The real Americans? What is that supposed to mean? Jimmy doesn't care for Mary Swain's brand of sexed-up palaver and he's as real as any American. But the crowd devours the red meat, communes with Mary, and then in lieu of a cigarette they rhythmically chant: ma-RY, ma-RY, ma-RY while her gleaming smile widens. The candidate, lustrous chestnut mane tumbling over broad shoulders, downshifts to a crinkly grin, satisfied and sure. She's saying "We will take this fight to the heart of the beast" and they're devouring it, the we, the fight, the beast, each element of the rhetoric bringing them along with this avatar and her promise of power and release.
Jimmy sees Mary Swain gazing out over the undulating mass of citizens; the white faces, the brown ones, all of them full-throated despite the afternoon heat thrusting from the blacktop like a death ray, and hears the call for renewal, prosperity, and faith. Mary Swain is magnetic, a natural performer and Jimmy catches himself enjoying her act. He knows she is just a politician selling the usual swill, but it's hard to take your eyes off this woman. He marvels at the cool appearance. His armpits are moist with perspiration but Mary Swain looks dry as the desert air. Her bearing is a runner's, erect, shoulders back, chin pointed toward the future. And her legs. Jimmy has never seen legs like that on a politician. Her hemline stops several inches above her knees, the better to highlight supple calves that curve into a pair of red pumps. Jimmy figures Mary Swain's a little younger than he, late thirties, but spas, trainers, and botox lop ten years off. She looks more like a character in a video game than a candidate for the United States House of Representatives.
Jimmy observes Arnaldo Escovedo, slicked back black hair and reflector sunglasses, walking toward him. A middleweight Golden Gloves fighter twenty years ago and now a police detective on the Desert Hot Springs force, the man still moves lightly on the balls of his feet. They exchange a collegial nod. "You like her?" Jimmy says. Arnaldo raises an eyebrow, lets Jimmy know, yeah, he likes her. Jimmy chuckles, asks if he's on duty and Arnaldo nods. The job: mingle with the voters, look for suspicious behavior, mixed nuts that might want to blast their way into the news — make sure nothing untoward happens. Before he resigned from the force, Jimmy would have pulled this detail, watching the crowd, on the lookout for the overly excitable or mentally defective. He's still on alert out of habit. But the crowd is raucous, not unruly.
Arnaldo asks Jimmy what he's doing here. No challenge in his tone, only wants to know.
"Just an interested citizen," Jimmy says.
"Trying to spook the Chief?"
"Not on purpose," Jimmy says.
"Better not let him see me talking to you," Arnaldo says. He grins at Jimmy and continues his circumnavigation.
"Just can't get enough of Hard Marvin, can you?" Jimmy looks over and sees Cali Pasco standing next to him. Tight jeans and a white tee shirt hug her slender figure and she wears a pearl gray lightweight blazer over it to hide the shoulder holster and the Beretta it contains. The cowboy boots give her another inch of height. Thick brown hair pulled back in a ponytail that falls through the back of a blue baseball cap makes her look younger than her thirty-two years.
"Sergeant Pasco," Jimmy says, grinning.
"Detective Sergeant," she says. "You want to fight about it?" Playing, a gleam in her brown eyes.
"I don't want to get my ass kicked so early in the day." They always liked each other when they were colleagues and Cali appreciated that Jimmy never tried to sleep with her when he was married. "So you got promoted?"
"Hard forced some guy out, I think Jimmy Duke was his name."
Probing with the joke, and he doesn't walk away. "So there was an opening."
"They'll make anyone a detective these days."
"Helps if you're a girl." Cali gives him a smile, keeps ambling along the perimeter of the crowd. He likes how she carries herself, the ease with which she moves, that she can sling it and take it and come back for more.
I was talking to my oldest daughter about what it means to be an American, and you know what she said to me? It's about freedom!
Jimmy glances to where Hard Marvin is standing, behind the candidate. Sees the man looking at Mary Swain with the combination of awe and lust that seems to be the effect she has on males predisposed to her philosophy of a muscular military and no taxes. Notices Hard is fiddling with his wedding ring like he wants to take it off. Imagines the Chief is visualizing going tantric on Mary Swain and the thought nearly makes him laugh.
Jimmy is immune to the candidate's charms. Mary Swain reminds him of the popular girls back in high school, batting eyelashes and sweet poison tongues. It's not that he dislikes her actively, other than in the way he dislikes all politicians, the hurly-burly of government not something to which he pays much attention. Whenever he bothers to listen to a politician, it all runs together. America's Future, God, My Opponent is against what you love. And Mary Swain seems a little angry, which is something to which Jimmy does not respond well. He notices the crowd today has become angry, too, and Mary Swain feeds off them as she launches into her closing, draws herself up to her full height — five foot nine in heels — and exhorts them to take back the government from the socialists and atheists and all the un-patriotic operators who have betrayed their sacred trust because our best days are in front of us and if they vote for her it will be morning in America again and our nation will reclaim it's destiny as a beacon in a darkening world.
God bless you, God bless our troops, and God bless the U.S.A!
Jimmy remains in his position near the riser as the rally breaks up. He has nowhere to go, figures he'll see if Hard spots him and wonders whether Hard will say anything if he does. Mary Swain shaking hands with the sweaty crowd, people taking her picture, shouting encouragement. Jimmy watching Hard at her side, the sun glinting off his shiny head, shaking hands, too, smiling, backslapping; working it like someone with something to prove, someone who wants to matter. A few minutes go by, Jimmy standing his ground, Mary and Hard still pumping hands. Most of the throng has drifted back to their cars, but there's still a scrum of diehards near the front who need a personal shot of 90 proof charisma.
Jimmy's waited long enough, pushes in, elbows through. Hard spots him and his smile freezes in a rictus of alarm. The Chief's right hand drops to his sidearm, a Glock 9, Jimmy realizing the man thinks I might be a shooter. And he's a little disappointed, his feelings hurt, because Hard, who knows him for godsakes, believes the slightest possibility exists that he could go Lee Harvey Oswald on Mary Swain. Jimmy wondering if Hard is actually going to make a move toward him but the big Chief holds his position. Mary Swain gripping the hand of a retiree in a Hawaiian shirt and a tan baseball cap with gold stitching that reads U.S.S. Ronald Reagan, the man trembling with excitement and gratitude. Then Jimmy thrusts his right hand out and the candidate takes it in hers.
"Good luck, Mary," Jimmy says, holding his left hand away from his body where his ex-boss can see there's no weapon in it.
"I hope I have your vote," she says, her white teeth blinding.
"Oh, sure," Jimmy says. He notices the slim hand with the French manicure, smells her cocoanut sunscreen. Up close, the visceral Mary Swain Experience ignites. Jimmy lets go and just breathes her in for a brief moment, the lustrous hair, the perfect skin, and that infinite smile.
Then blink she moves down the line and Jimmy snaps out of it. Now he and Hard are face to face for a moment full to bursting and he thinks, yes, people these days are gun-toxicated and ready to rock and he knows Hard knows it, sees him twitch, the man already wound tight as a blasting cap, ready to explode, and Jimmy, with the inborn mischief of a guy who doesn't know how to stay out of trouble, can't help himself. So he winks. In that moment he senses the other man's discomfort and revels in his own enjoyment at having caused it. Jimmy cares how Hard reacts. Wishes he didn't but, yes, he cares. He is still a prisoner of the idea that any of this matters. He understands this kind of delusion is not the way of the dharma. By his reaction to Hard Marvin, Jimmy knows that freedom from suffering is not imminent. Yet he yearns for freedom. And what is more American than that?
Walking toward his pickup truck, he hears "Uncle Jimmy!" and turns to see Brittany, the seventeen-year old daughter of his brother Randall. Skinny and vibrant, with an appealing grin, Jimmy thinks she'd look better without the streak of magenta dye in her mop of brown hair. In her uniform of Converse sneakers, a plaid skirt with ripped fishnets and a baggy tee shirt with the name of some band he doesn't recognize emblazoned across the chest, she is indistinguishable from the average teenage girl save for the oblong spiral notebook in her hand. Brittany asks him what he's doing at the rally and he tells her it's his duty as a citizen to hear every candidate's line of blather. She gazes at him intently when he says this, staring right into his eyes as if she is not only taking in this information but also parsing it, extrapolating, and contemplating how it can be used to her advantage. To her uncle, she does not seem like an ordinary teenager but something more purposeful. It's slightly unsettling. When he asks her why she isn't in class since it's a Monday morning and the law of the State of California requires she be there, Brittany informs him that she's doing a school assignment. She accepts his offer of a lift back to Palm Springs Academy.
Jimmy drives a blue 2002 Ford pickup with a dented front fender and a busted taillight he's been meaning to repair for weeks. Brittany settles into the passenger seat and on the ride she talks to him about politics ("What kind of freak goes into that line of work?"), her parents ("kind of annoying") and the colleges she's thinking about applying to. Most of the schools are on the east coast and have fancy pedigrees. But maybe she won't go to college at all, she tells him. Her grades are excellent and her board scores, too, but doesn't the world belong to the entrepreneurs, the self-starters, new gods of the wild and relentlessly entertaining American pageant who bend reality to their implacable will? And they don't teach those skills in college, do they? Jimmy listens and nods, impressed with his niece. He drops her off and watches as she walks across the lawn and into the glass and steel building of the Upper School. Brittany almost makes Jimmy wish he were a father. Of course, that would mean he'd be yoked to his ex-wife Darleen for the rest of his life. He knows the kid who's worth that hasn't been born.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Angry Buddhist"
Copyright © 2012 Seth Greenland.
Excerpted by permission of Europa Editions.
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