According to this review, I was wrong:
If your blood boils every time you see the current resident of the White House on television or in print, and if the images from Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq trigger a demand for resignations at the highest levels of the military, then put Checkpoint at the top of your reading list. Otherwise, steer clear.
The 115-page novel details one afternoon in the lives of two middle-aged men who have been friends since high school. Ben has driven from his home to Washington, D.C., to see Jay after receiving a desperate phone call. Ben rightly fears that Jay's girlfriend has left him.
But Jay's political obsession overwhelms any personal woes. On the second page, Jay tells Ben he intends to assassinate the president. Jay's fury about Iraqi civilians dying has bubbled into madness.
Specifically, Jay obsesses about a story he read in the Sydney Morning Herald describing a tragic incident in which American soldiers at a checkpoint shot a car full of fleeing Iraqi civilians, including two girls and their grandfather.
Baker writes Checkpoint as if it is tape-recorded dialogue. It is less a novel and more of a passionate cry from the heart about American foreign policy that Baker clearly opposes. Jay believes that Bush has to be killed and the war stopped.
No Bush admirer, Ben argues that Vice President Cheney would be worse stepping in as head of state. Ben also keeps pointing out all the reasons his plan is wrong, both morally and logically. He reminds Jay to think of his three children and to realize that the Secret Service probably would kill Jay first. And Ben knows he will be in big trouble for not reporting a threat against the president.
Baker lets the conversation periodically ramble from the war. The two friends discuss free-range chicken; Jay's various jobs, which include being a roofer and a lobster fisherman; Jay's opposition to abortion; Ben's career as a college professor; and Ben's struggle with writer's block. The two also touch on Vietnam, the CIA, weaponry and a vast assortment of conspiracy theories.
The conversation, though, always returns to Jay's proposed mission. Baker leaves the ending open to interpretation, and the reader wonders: Is Jay crazy or simply crazed by a war he finds immoral?
Baker makes you feel as if you are indeed inside the mind of a potential assassin. Whether you want to go there is your choice.
Indeed, it appears that the whole book is a conversation about killing the president--one character convinced it must be done, the other--no Bush fan himself--trying to talk the first character out of it. And the conclusion: "open to interpretation."
So it appears that we're not left with morality winning out over murderousness.
And here's the line I found really chilling: Baker makes you feel as if you are indeed inside the mind of a potential assassin. Whether you want to go there is your choice.
Okay, imagine this scenario. An unbalanced individual--say Michael Moore--reads this book, and already convinced that George Bush is a bad guy is convinced by the narrative that Bush must be assassinated. So he does it.
Should Nicholson Baker be considered an accomplice? Should the publishing company be held liable as well?
But hey, those are just academic questions. The anti-Bush climate in this country is at a point where it's not such a stretch to imagine there will probably be an assassination attempt--not by al Qaeda, but by an American citizen gone round the bend. My biggest question is "WHAT THE HELL WAS THIS PUBLISHER THINKING!!!"
Edited by Drew, 12 August 2004 - 09:04 PM.