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Book Review: Guests of the Nation by Mike Palecek

“President George W. Bush did 9/11. No Shit. Really.”

So says Mike Palecek at the very top of his website. This declaration is a fair summation of his new short novel Guests of the Nation, a novel that Palecek sent to Irregular Times with the request that we write a review. While written in the form of a work of fiction, its purpose is clearly to try and advance a conspiratorial tale regarding the attacks of September 11, a tale in which:

  • an elevator company supposedly servicing the World Trade Center is actually a government outfit that places explosives throughout the building
  • airplanes involved in the attacks are diverted by agents and replaced by replicas that actually complete the “mission”
  • those on board the original airplanes are taken off and shot in bunkers, except for the chosen few to be squirreled away, and
  • Ari Fleischer madly scrawls the message “Don’t Say Anything Yet” to George W. Bush on a dry-erase board as Bush reads My Pet Goat to children

This conspiratorial tale doesn’t meet the standard of a conspiracy theory, since a theory explains patterns in data. Palecek doesn’t provide any evidence that these events ocurred; he makes stuff up that’s meant to be plausible. The story is literally plausible, in the same way that it’s plausible for space aliens to be stored at Area 51 or it’s plausible that Queen Elizabeth is at the center of a cocaine trafficking ring. I mean, hey, you can’t prove it’s not true. It could have happened. I could be the King of Prussia, writing this review from the safety of my fusion-powered dirigible. To give his fiction an air of reality, Palecek peppers his 72-page story with quotations from various people in the 9-11 “truth” movement, additional quotations from historical figures such as Adolph Hitler, and some statistics compiled by New York Magazine. None of these “facts” compellingly connect with Palecek’s yarn about the events of September 11, 2001.

Neither do they connect with Palecek’s parallel story regarding “John,” a 9-11 “truth” activist who is detained by security goons for wearing a t-shirt that reveals Palecek’s truth. Dragged to a back room in an airport, “John” takes the stage during his interrogation, laying out what really happened on September 11 to the agents. This is a transparent wish-fulfillment fantasy for the author, with “John” being so important for knowing the truth that he must be detained, with “John’s” tale being so compelling that it takes over the entire interrogation, and finally with “John” winning his agents over, convincing them of his rectitude before… he has to kill them! Boom, boom! I mean, wow! This is so much more exciting than being ignored or told you’re full of it, isn’t it? It’s like, you know, the Matrix or something, but without the special effects.

If I don’t appreciate Palecek’s attempt to reveal the “truth,” and I’m underwhelmed by the channeling of Keanu Reeves, I’m also unimpressed with the basic mechanics of Palecek’s writing. Sometimes spoken words are placed in quotations, sometimes they aren’t. Now and again Palecek’s characters inexplicably question their own choice of words: “Some sort of tweed? WTF is tweed?” … “a better view of this fucking terrorist in their fucking midst. Midst?” Almost no paragraphs exist to organize Palecek’s thoughts; single sentences follow, one after the other, in an apparent stream of consciousness that winds its way from describing one interrogator’s ample breasts to another interrogator’s Bill Cosby face and nappy (yes, “nappy”) white hair. If the consciousness were less simply bizarre and more interesting, perhaps I’d be more interested.

I don’t recommend Guests of the Nation to you unless you’re already a 9-11 conspiracy theorist who is looking for some easy affirmation, someone to tell you that you are not only right, but important, so vitally important that the government is getting ready to haul you off into a back room somewhere and do its work on you. As for me, I think there are enough actual, demonstrable, documented outrages for me to think about. There is a wildfire roaring through our country fueled on ethical scandal, surveillance, lost liberty, lost income, lost opportunity and war. I don’t have much time or attention for Palecek’s hypothetical tinderbox as it fizzles and spits.

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