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Bethlehem, Pa., - James Tyler, an adjunct professor of classics at Moravian College, has written a book that is, without question, different from every other book in a campaign season saturated with books.
In Bush Almighty! An Extraterrestrial Critique (84 pp.), Tyler has created an argument that owes something to literary works of the past. His argument in dialogue form is best described as a Swiftian satire on 20th-century politics.
“From time to time, all sorts of books have had someone from Mars look at the human race,” says Tyler, the son of two Moravian professors, the late George and Dorothy Tyler, who taught classics and French, respectively. James Tyler teaches Latin and tutors, and he is also the College’s archivist.
The conversation about the life and times of George W. Bush is between Beth, a journalist, and Gog, a Martian, and may have some ancestry in Doris Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series. Its immediate models, however, are George Bernard Shaw’s novella The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God (1932), a critique of the world’s religions; and Montesquieu’s Lettres persanes (Persian Letters), written in 1721 “by” a Persian visitor to France.
By using a Persian, the French essayist allows a total stranger, the ultimate objective observer, to confront every aspect of society. So does Shaw’s fable. His innocent heroine sees through every pretender to the throne of God, including scientists as well as leaders of Judaism, Christianity, and the Eastern religions.
There’s a bit of the author in Beth, the questioner, and Gog, the omniscient Martian who has catalogued Bush’s every utterance. These he cites in answer Beth’s questions about Bush’s Texas background, religious faith, military experience, and 11 other subjects that collectively answer the question “Who is George W. Bush?”
Gog’s trove of New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and Wall Street Journal articles and his notes from National Public Radio stories can be found, suspiciously enough, in a pile in Tyler’s house. “I put a lot of time into collecting the evidence,” he says. “I started writing before I had a clear idea of what all the parts would be.”
He opted for a dialogue because this permitted argument, discussion, and conjecture. Engaging two points of view allowed for a fairness that he would have found difficult to sustain if the book had been, for instance, a personal essay, he says.
Tyler has no problem with the book’s being somewhat unclassifiable. “I just enjoy writing stories to spark discussion,” he says. “And this was an idea worth writing a book about.”
If Kerry wins the election, and Tyler, no friend of the President, hopes he will, he says he is happy to sacrifice sales of his book in a good cause.