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"Checkpoint"

Media Literature Nicholson Baker Checkpoint

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#1 Drew

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:03 PM

The USA Today today had a review of Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint, a novel about a man who wants to assassinate George Bush. When I first heard of the book, I thought it was probably only tangentially about an assassination. Certainly no one would try to publish--just prior to an election--a novel where the assassination of one of the candidates is the main point of the book.

According to this review, I was wrong:

Quote

Nicholson Baker's latest novel is the slim, compelling Checkpoint. But reader be warned: Appreciation of this novel depends entirely on one's political attitudes toward the war in Iraq and the presidency of George W. Bush.

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.

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#2 JadziaDax

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:09 PM

Hey,

Sounds like an interesting read.

I'd read it.

Then again, I think people like Moore isn't unbalanced, just a political extremist who likes to state his views rather publically. Sort of like a lot of the right wing extremists on this board ;)....but with a lot more money.

Edited by JadziaDax, 13 August 2004 - 05:49 AM.

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#3 Josh

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:13 PM

Yeah, it does kinda sound like a fascinating book...

Probably nothing I'd read though. I'm not much for the political thriller genre. ;)
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#4 Hambil

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 09:29 PM

I think it's disgusting, and I'm pretty liberal. Unfortunately, it's not illegal.

Of course, I also find the (likely) answer to this disgusting:
Drew, is there anything wrong with Unfit for Command?

#5 Drew

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 10:20 PM

Hambil, on Aug 12 2004, 09:27 PM, said:

Of course, I also find the (likely) answer to this disgusting:
Drew, is there anything wrong with Unfit for Command?
I'll let you know once I read it. As far as "Unfit for Command" is concerned, either 200+ veterans are lying, or John Kerry is. But that's another thread.
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#6 CJ AEGIS

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 10:31 PM

I think someone got a visit from the USSS and probably has them breathing down his neck for life now.  And it is a well deserved treatment.
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#7 Ro-Astarte

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:07 PM

That book sounds truly disgusting.

Blech.

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#8 Anakam

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:18 PM

Hambil, on Aug 13 2004, 03:27 AM, said:

I think it's disgusting, and I'm pretty liberal. Unfortunately, it's not illegal.
That pretty much sums up my feelings on the book too. :Oo:
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#9 ZipperInt

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:45 PM

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book, but I'm wondering - would people still find it disgusting if it was written in an ambiguous fashion (so that current events and the president wasn't an issue)?
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#10 Drew

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Posted 12 August 2004 - 11:58 PM

ZipperInt, on Aug 12 2004, 11:43 PM, said:

I'm still trying to decide how I feel about this book, but I'm wondering - would people still find it disgusting if it was written in an ambiguous fashion (so that current events and the president wasn't an issue)?
Probably not. If it was set in 1865 and was a conversation between John Wilkes Booth and a friend, I might find it interesting. But given the current political atmosphere, publishing this book is irresponsible.
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#11 Ro-Astarte

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 12:30 AM

I think that if it was indeed a novelization-not naming the object of the plot as the sitting President of the US, I'd find it more acceptable.

But I don't think that's what the author and publisher are going for. They're banking on controversy.

Ro :blink:

#12 Psyche

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 02:39 AM

I agree with Jadzia here. It sounds interesting, although I'll probably request it from the library as opposed to buying it.

#13 Delvo

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 06:19 AM

The real problem isn't the book, but the way mainstream reviewers are presenting it: not as just the latest wack tract, but as a serious and important piece of literature expressing a valid philosophy.

Meanwhile, the play I'm Going To Kill The President: A Comdey will be opening soon, if it hasn't already.

#14 Ro-Astarte

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 09:25 AM

Where are you seeing that it's a "valid philosophy", Delvo?  

Ro

#15 FnlPrblm

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 09:54 AM

I'll admit, the first half of the description was interesting (at first), but the second half, especially the ramblings of off-topic stories kills it.  Even if it is done right, meaning it gets you inside the head of an assasin, leaving it at that would kill the imagination since there is no proceeding action.  To me, it really sounds like the writer was long overdue on time allotment and thus the book was finished half-assed (pardon the french ;) ).  I think what intrigued me about the topic was the relation of the fact of Bush pushing his luck by being the first U.S. president who was elected in a year divisible by 20 (2000, 1980...) and not died in office, been shot at and/or killed.  I by far do not like Bush, but do worry that he's pushing the evelope by re-running and risking it.  However, this book seems like a bad take on that idea.  Getting into the head of an assasin is not like getting into a mind of a killer.  One murders out of rage the other out of either political agenda or because of another's political agenda.  And yes, in some ways shooting a drug cartel could be concieved in a political agenda fashion.
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#16 MuseZack

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:17 AM

Ro-Astarte, on Aug 13 2004, 02:23 PM, said:

Where are you seeing that it's a "valid philosophy", Delvo? 

Ro
He's not.  He's making things up, as usual.

The New York Times, for example, starts its review with the words "This scummy little book..." and doesn't get any kinder from there.

http://www.nytimes.c...ml?pagewanted=1

The opening paragraph:

THIS scummy little book treats the question of whether the problems that now beset our cherished and anxious country may be solved by the shooting of its president. Nicholson Baker's novel does not advocate the assassination of George W. Bush, to be sure. It is more cunning. ''Checkpoint'' comes armored in ambiguity about its own character. The protagonist of the novel, who is preparing to perpetrate the deed, is quite obviously an unbalanced individual, a misfit, a loser, a fantasist, a paranoid, and so his violent plan for rescuing the United States cannot be taken seriously, though of course this is true of all such conspiracies. And Baker includes another character, a sensible friend of the homicidal progressive, who tries to dissuade the man from acting so drastically on his alienation. So ''Checkpoint'' is not, strictly speaking, an incitement to a crime, and there is no need for the F.B.I. to pull people off the hunt for this summer's terrorists and open an investigation into the fictional devices of a certain Nicholson Baker. Except for its inflammatory theme -- Baker's novels have always been desperate to be noticed, and here he breaks new ground in his sensationalism -- ''Checkpoint'' could be dismissed as another of Baker's creepy hermeneutical toys. But this is no ordinary inquiry into obsession. The object of Baker's fascination this time is the murder of the president of the United States. And the fascination is genuine. Like all of Baker's books, this one is much too close to its subject. This novel whose subject is wild talk is itself wild talk, and so another discouraging document of this age of wild talk.

Edited by MuseZack, 13 August 2004 - 10:33 AM.

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#17 JadziaDax

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:27 AM

The NYT requires a subsciption....or sign up.....can you quote a bit of it Zack?
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#18 Hambil

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:30 AM

<sarcasm>The New York Times is a leftist propaganda rag. They're only trashing this book because it's an obvious target and they are trying to lend credibility to the other lies they tell. And I find it interesting that the link Zack gives us as ‘proof’ requires me to put my name on some list…  :suspect: </sarcasm>

#19 MuseZack

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:31 AM

Drew, on Aug 13 2004, 03:18 AM, said:

Hambil, on Aug 12 2004, 09:27 PM, said:

Of course, I also find the (likely) answer to this disgusting:
Drew, is there anything wrong with Unfit for Command?
I'll let you know once I read it. As far as "Unfit for Command" is concerned, either 200+ veterans are lying, or John Kerry is. But that's another thread.
How about Jim Rassman, Drew?  Is he a liar, too?  Here's his account of the events surrounding John Kerry's Bronze Star:  http://www.opinionjo...ml?id=110005460

How about the men who were actually on Kerry's boat?  Were they liars as well?

Or would you rather believe Unfit For Command's co-author Jerome Corsi, who spends his time at Free Republic writing things like this:

• Corsi on Islam: "a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion"

• Corsi on Catholicism: "Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn't reported by the liberal press"

• Corsi on Muslims: "RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters -- it all goes together"

• Corsi on "John F*ing Commie Kerry": "After he married TerRAHsa, didn't John Kerry begin practicing Judiasm? He also has paternal grandparents that were Jewish. What religion is John Kerry?"

• Corsi on Senator "FAT HOG" Clinton: "Anybody ask why HELLary couldn't keep BJ Bill satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?"

http://mediamatters....ms/200408060010

Nice guy, that Corsi.  I'm sure he's not pushing an agenda or anything.
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#20 JadziaDax

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Posted 13 August 2004 - 10:35 AM

Hambil, on Aug 13 2004, 08:28 AM, said:

<sarcasm>The New York Times is a leftist propaganda rag. They're only trashing this book because it's an obvious target and they are trying to lend credibility to the other lies they tell. And I find it interesting that the link Zack gives us as ‘proof’ requires me to put my name on some list…  :suspect: </sarcasm>
The "list" is just the free subscription to the NYT.

However, I've subscribed about 10 times to the NYT and keep forgetting my login and such, and I dont read it on a regular basis anyways ;), hence asking for quotes  :).
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