Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Overton Window: Epilogue and Afterword

Okay, friends, this is it. My final post on The Overton Window. (Until the movie adaptation, anyway.) It's been a long ride, hasn't it? Seven months and 50,000 words and I don't know how many comments. I am, honestly, a little relieved to done with it, and a little saddened too. It feels like breaking up with an old lover. An old lover who wasn't particularly good in the sack and thought discussing tax code was the kind of thing that might give me a boner.

There are, at this point, two chapters left: The epilogue and the afterword. The afterword is the longest section of the book, at nearly thirty pages. It's where Beck lays out the "factional" parts of his story. They're sort of like footnotes, I guess, but without the annoying superscript. Here's an example, just to give you the idea:

More from Chapter 3:

Virtually the entire speech that Arthur Gardner gives in the boardroom is based on fact; of course, in keeping with his character, he presents his own version of those facts. Here are a few specific examples:

Committed $8 trillion to those that engineered the financial crisis: David Goldman, "The $8 Trillion Bailout," CNNMoney .com, January 6, 2009,

Social Security is a Ponzi scheme: Jeff Poor, "Cramer: Social Security a Bigger Ponzi Scheme than Madoff's," Business & Media Institute,

A hundred thousand billion dollars: Also known as "$100 trillion," this is a chilling estimate of our unfunded Social Security and Medicare liabilities. Pamela Villarreal, "Social Security and Medicare Projections: 2009," National Center for Policy Analysis, June 11, 2009,

$17 billion in underfunded union pensions: Nick Bunkley, "Automaker Pensions Underfunded by $17 Billion," New York Times, April 6, 2010,

We're borrowing $5 billion a day from Asia: Statement of C. Fred Bergsten, Director, Institute for International Economics, February 2-4, 2005,

In keeping with the overarching theme of The Overton Window, it's not very interesting reading. There is, however, the occasional nugget. Like this:

In Chapter 11 we hear from spirited conspiracy theorist Danny Bailey for the first time. Danny is the kind of guy who likes to string together a variety of facts in an attempt to make something crazy sound plausible. His speech is important because it shows how selected facts and truths can be used as the foundation for an overall thesis that is entirely fictional.

I think if anyone knows about theses that are entirely fictional, it would be Beck. I wonder if he at all understands irony. Your guess is as good as mine.

That is, essentially, the afterword. If you're interested in all the links and explanations, by all means, get down to your local library and ferret out a copy of the book.

On a slightly different subject, if you'll allow me to digress, there has, along the way, been some question as to which character is supposed to represent Beck. I actually have that answer. Straight from the horse's ass's mouth, as it were. From an interview last year:

The two characters, Noah and Molly are actually, when I started this years ago, were actually my business partner and I, without the … well we never had sex.

For the record, Noah and Molly never had sex either. Beck, unsurprisingly, doesn't know what happens in his own book. Maybe he's thinking of something that happens in the sequel. "This is actually only half of the book I originally outlined. This ends at the halfway point. But we a) ran out of time, and b) I didn't want to inflict an 800-page book on people." I suppose I should thank Beck for not dragging this garbage out another 500 pages.

The whole interview is terrible, nothing but softball questions and Beck's meandering answers. Beck speaks and makes little sense, which I guess is a lot like his TV show. I tried to watch it once, and all I could wonder was, "What is he talking about? This is so incoherent. How is this even on TV?" Ah well, someone's tuning in, no? Beck says he spent two years writing this heap, which just doesn't seem possible. He claims to have "channeled a little George Bernard Shaw" too. Which is, of course, laughable.

The best part, for me, was this quote: "The only problem with [The Overton Window] was the book could be so dated by next week." Ummm... no. That is soooo not the only problem with the book.

Read the whole thing here, if you're so inclined.

To the epilogue, the final bit of our tale.

"A month to the day has passed" and Noah is in some sort of detention center. I'm not really sure what it is. It's kind of a prison, or maybe rehab. Noah is in a work program where he writes press releases for the NWO. Whut? Yeah, I dunno. If you're expecting this thing to suddenly start making sense, you're certainly a lot more optimistic than I.

This wasn't a prison, not at all, the welcoming committee had gone on to emphasize. This complex and its surrounding buildings might have been originally constructed as a prison, but funding cuts and changes in policy had orphaned the place in recent years. Local officials in the small Montana town nearby had been delighted to learn that their costly investment might finally be put to profitable use, providing local employment and helping the country deal with its recently declared emergency.

Noah, unfortunately, is having a little trouble adapting. His first PR gig was something of a fiasco, so he'd been booted out of the non-prison's penthouse suite, and sent closer to steerage. Whoops!

This failed assignment had been pretty straightforward: He was to write up an in-depth piece for the news, outlining the inner workings of the recent homegrown conspiracy that had nearly led to the destruction of Las Vegas and San Francisco. The story was to be told from his own point of view as a courageous hostage and unwilling insider.

His first draft was rejected immediately; there'd been a consistent undertone in the text that seemed to paint the ringleaders, the Founders' Keepers, in a subtly but unacceptably positive light. His second try wasn't an improvement, it was even worse. The strange thing was, if only out of self-preservation, Noah had been trying hard to write what they wanted, but the stubborn truths just kept elbowing their way in.

After an informal inquiry, this first glitch was chalked up to the lingering effects of the Stockholm syndrome, that passing mental condition through which hostages sometimes develop an odd sympathy for the cause of their captors. For the time being it was determined that, until he was better, Noah would be given less-demanding duties and an additional editor to watch over his work.

I know I keep bringing this up, but Stockholm syndrome after one bad date? Really? That seems as likely as Noah and Molly falling desperately in love after their weekend spent, largely, not together at all. And what "stubborn truths" did Noah know about the Founders' Keepers? Molly told him her mother had founded the group. What else? Since that moment, Noah's hardly had time to research them, has he? He was drugged, rescued, had a couple cab rides, flew in a plane (with Molly in reticence mode), jumped out of a car, witnessed a nuclear explosion, was interrogated, and sent to rehab. Is that about right? I don't see much free time in there for catching up on the Ragnar Benson reading list. This book is really rucking stupid.

There was no shortage of things to do, large and small. A lot of PR spin needed to be applied to the changes that were already well under way across the country. Noah was given a stack of small writing tasks, mostly one-liners and fillers that required far less of a commitment to the web of new truths being woven for consumption by the press and the public. For one of these jobs, he was to simply come up with a suitably harmless-sounding name for a new Treasury bureau that would be put in charge of the next wave of government bailouts for various failing corporations and industries.

This was the work of only a few seconds; Noah called it the Federal Resource Allocation & Underwriting Division.

Of course, not trusting his readers to see the joke, Beck has to explain "The five-letter acronym for this new government bureau would be FRAUD." Yeah, duh. In fairness, when I was ten and read The Plague Dogs I totally did not get the joke about Animal Research, Scientific and Experimental. But I'm not a child now. And neither are Beck's readers.

Once you know the truth, Molly had said, then you've got to live it. What she'd apparently neglected to add was that you'll also tend to randomly tell it, whether it gets you into trouble or not.

Whoops! And, barf! Living the truth isn't easy! It's tougher than putting a "freedom isn't free" bumper sticker on your car, that's for sure.

There's some text here explaining how Darthur is controlling the media and keeping everyone in a constant state of fear. Noah brushes his teeth, and cleans the toilet and does a lot of pondering. He falls asleep and has a dream about Molly's cabin.

Snow fluttered down outside the wide windows, big flakes sticking and blowing past the frosted panes, an idyllic woodland scene framed in pleated curtains and knotty pine. He was sitting in front of a stone hearth. A pair of boots were drying there, with space for another, smaller pair beside. A fire was burning low, a black dutch oven suspended above the coals, the smell of some wonderful meal cooking inside. Two plates and silver settings were arranged on a nearby dining table.

A simple evening lay ahead. Though it might seem nearly identical to a hundred other nights he'd spent with her, he also knew it would be unlike any other, before or after. It always was; being with Molly, talking with her, listening to her, enjoying the quiet with her, feeling her close to him, thinking of the future with her. Every night was like a perfect first date, and every morning like the first exciting day of a whole new life together.

Like Molly had said, such a simple existence certainly wasn't for everyone. But the freedom to choose one's own pursuit of happiness— that's what her country was founded on, and that's what she was fighting for.

I get the distinct impression Molly and Noah, in the dream, live in a Thomas Kinkade painting. I guess that is preferable to living in a Bruegel painting. Which makes me wonder, since I could really not give two fucks about Noah's dream, what it would be like to live in an Escher painting. Probably frustrating. You're trying to get to the bathroom but you keep ending up on the living room ceiling when all you really wanna do is pee.

Noah's dream is interrupted when an orderly with a dinner cart arrives.

"Say, I see you here every day, and it occurred to me tonight, we've never been properly introduced."

Noah put down his tray on the side table inside his door. "I'm Noah Gardner."

The man nodded, and casually glanced left and then right down the hallway before he answered, quietly, "My friends call me Nathan. I've got a message for you," he said. "Would you mind if I came in for just a moment?"

Uh oh! Nathan has a message! How skullduggerous! I mean, right, it's gonna be skullduggerous? Nathan didn't invite himself in to tell Noah to put away the checkerboard when he was done with it because no one likes a messy rec room. Of course, Nathan wants to be sure Noah understands the importance of the message, and naturally slams Noah into the wall of his non-cell. Whut? Yeah.

Noah found himself pushed hard against the wall with a forearm pressed against his neck and the other man's face close to his.

"This is a wake-up call," Nathan hissed. "You're in a valuable position, my friend, and we need for you to snap out of it and start doing the work we need done." He adjusted his grip on Noah's collar, and continued. "Now listen closely. Tomorrow, at your job, you sign into your computer right before you leave for the day, but you don't sign out. Here's a key." Noah felt something shoved roughly into his pocket. "You're going to leave it under the mouse pad on the desk two places down from yours, to your left. Got all that?"

If anything, the teabaggers are consistent in their treatment of Noah. The never miss an opportunity to abuse him or otherwise treat him like garbage. I can see why he is so fond of them. And their plan seems to be to use Noah's access to get to sensitive data. Which was the same plan they used to steal the Powerpoint. And somehow, Darthur and the NWO is gonna fall for this again? Brother, Big Brother is pretty incompetent.

Nathan tells Noah to eat his dessert and then walks out. Noah jabs his spork into the pie on his plate and finds something unusual. "It was Molly's silver bracelet." Oh, barf.

He held it close to his eyes; maybe the words engraved there were a little more worn than they'd been before, but he would have remembered them even if they'd been gone completely.

She was alive. Whatever other message he'd been hoping for, whatever guidance he'd been seeking, this was better. Not just a plan, because a plan can be defeated. This was a foundation.

Huh? Okay, whatever, nevermind. I ain't even going to get into the difference between plans and foundations and how either of those were represented by Molly's bracelet. Noah is a lunkhead, so is Beck, as is his ghostwriter.

As he returned to the bedroom he remembered the key he'd been given and he pulled it from his pocket. It was wrapped in paper, and, as he unfolded it, Noah saw the simple words written there, in Molly's familiar handwriting.

"We're everywhere. Stay with us; I'll see you soon. The fight starts tomorrow."


Seriously. That's the end: "We're everywhere. Stay with us; I'll see you soon. The fight starts tomorrow." This is, I suppose, the moment that really sets our hearts a-pounding, the hair on our neck standing up in awe at the inspiring finale. But all I can mutter is a half-assed "meh." Especially when I think about how fuck all really happened up to this point. And what did happen, like the nuclear detonation, really didn't even involve the hero or the heroine.

Our protagonists have been supporting characters in their own novel. How tragic. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if this novel had anything interesting to say. If anything interesting had happened. Hell, I can't really say anything uninteresting happened, because, truthfully, almost nothing happened. I'm not going to count cab rides, by the way.

I've read plenty of bad writing in my day. I've written plenty, for that matter. But this is the worst thing I've ever read to come out of a major publishing house. I've stated before, there seems to have been minimal, if any, editing done. It's sloppy, nonsensical, inconsistent. It's an embarrassment, really. It's hard to believe something this awful could come from the same people that publish R. L. Stine's work.

I don't know how many copies this thing sold. I know Beck has a built-in audience huffin up just about anything he farts out. My local library had twenty copies on the shelves. I imagine it lined Beck's faux-everyman pockets with more cash than he'll ever spend. Critically speaking, every review I saw concluded that the books was awful, and at the same time it holds a 4 stars out of 5 rating by Amazon's customers. Obviously, someone likes him.

I'm not one of those. And after reading The Overton Window, I like him even less.

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