Monday, June 26, 2006

BOOK REVIEW. GreenLit: Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley

GreenLit. It's the fiction that led to the fade-in. Whether it's the real deal or just the real tinsel underneath the phony tinsel, the titles in this series are devoted to the "at a theater near you" books — the literature whose adaptations got the greenlight to production and projection on to your neighborhood silver screens.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley:

Have Shamelessness, Will Travel. Nick Naylor is one of those Tobacco Industry flacks you love to hate when it comes to absurd cigarette company dig-in-your-heel denials that their products are unhealthy or that there is absolutely no link to lung cancer. He also comes to mind if your cynicism -- read: common sense -- puts the lie to those transparent, gag-smarmy we’re-on-your-side campaigns touting Tobacco’s care and concern about such issues as underage baby seal smoking.

[ADBLOCKHERE]“Where’s the data?” Nick continuously asks in Christopher Buckley’s witty and incisive 1994 novel -- now a motion picture directed by Jason Reitman and starring Aaron Eckhart and Maria Bello. As an unapologetic lobbyist in Washington, D.C., he's bold enough to convincingly announce that smoking retards the onset of Parkinson’s disease and that it helps replenishes the ozone, while contending that clerical workers who puff-away get less carpal tunnel syndrome because they take more breaks. He’ll also try to deflect criticism by pointing to the burgeoning health scare posed by Vermont cheddar cheese. As for his own anti-underage smoking campaign, he likes the slogan, “Everything Your Parents Told You About Smoking Is Right” because of the potential subliminal power of the last three words.

On the other hand, Nick comprises a cathartic and refreshing, um, breath of fresh air for anyone who feels that the PC pendulum has swung too far to the other side with off-the-charts lawsuit rewards to not-responsible-for-their actions whiners who have managed to ignore fifty years of common sense and warnings about the dangers posed by smoking, by those insufferable commercials, and by the piling-on of absurd laws by hand-wringing “gaspers” intent on restricting all smoking anywhere indoors and outdoors in the universe and, just in case, the parallel universe should it exist. As Nick justifiably rants:
    There are an awful lot of sanctimonious people out there who expect everyone else to canonize them because they’re going around like hall monitors confiscating all the ashtrays. And once they’ve confiscated the last ashtrays, do you think they’re going to stop there? Oh no. They’ll be slapping warning labels on kid’s Popsicles. “Warning, the surgeon general has determined that Popsicles make your tongue cold.”

Not to mention the danger of second-hand cold tongue.

Now, righteous rhetoric, on both sides, of the issue, is not enough to sustain interest in a novel. So there’s a kidnapping by a bad Hungarian actor, an array of colorful characters, an FBI on the scent of the wrong trail, the “Mod Squad” -- the Merchants-of-Death squad, that is -- and a nifty little mystery for those who just want to be supremely entertained. I mean, if that’s your thing.

That is my thing, but first I’m going to crawl out in the freezing cold on to a narrow 20th-story building ledge that makes up the smoking section where I am. Not because I smoke, mind you -- but because the company is often better.

Author's note: Thank You for Smoking has also been reviewed by Cameron Graham on Blogcritics.


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