This neatly crafted parable is a patriotic cri de cœur on behalf of liberal America at a time when its values are widely believed to be under threat. As with so much Trump-related commentary from the East Coast, it has certain built-in blind spots: the narrative arc of the allegory is premised on a simplistically rosy view of America’s role in world affairs prior to the calamity of the 2016 election. Moreover, the cartoonish portrayal of the Captain’s hardcore followers recalls some of the more misanthropic rhetoric of the Clinton campaign, unhelpfully perpetuating the canard that it was mainly the poor who voted Trump into office.Three years have passed, but few lessons have been learnt.
After numerous insider accounts of Trump’s White House antics and as the impeachment proceedings rumble on, Eggers’ novella reads less like the biting satire it hopes to be and more like a quick primer on Trump’s presidency so far, albeit one wrapped in a thin veneer of fiction. Even when a trio of despots, led by the Pale One who boards the Glory shirtless and sitting astride a horse, incite the Captain to lock “Certain People” in cages before they take the helm and plunder the ship, the book fails to be more troubling, more shocking than the world as it already is. In our hyper-satirical age, Eggers’ proposal is just too modest.
The Trump presidency has been exhaustively assailed by satirists, and it’s not Eggers’s fault if this parable feels overfamiliar. That he nonetheless makes his story engaging, disturbing and sometimes genuinely funny is a testament to his skill as a writer. This, combined with the pleasure many take in seeing Trump lampooned, will make the book a reliable stocking-filler in left-leaning homes.
He knows you can’t just lampoon the culprit, you need to hold up a mirror to the whole society. His real target is moral hypocrisy. Many of the captain’s supporters see what a despicable human he is. But he serves their interests. And Eggers doesn’t miss a chance to take a dig at the Democrats either. Known as “the Kindly Mutineers”, they dither about putting themselves on the line to save the Glory. Eggers doesn’t have to exaggerate, he just has to pick and choose his details. The Captain and the Glory is funny because it’s true.
The pot-shots are bitingly funny. The Captain hates swarthy passengers. He likes cheeseburgers wrapped in plastic and looking at young women with luxurious hair. Instead of spewing his opinions out on Twitter, Eggers’ leader writes capitalised messages on a wipe-away board for the passengers to read, such as, “MY P-NUS: MUCH BETTER THAN PREVIOUS CAPTAIN’S.”
I won’t give away the ending, except to note that it does offer some hope for how people may survive a leader who has “no taste or manners or filter or shame or sense of what was true and what was false”.