Review: Enter the Aardvark, by Jessica Anthony
This will be a short review, as this was a very short book - it clocked in at 180 pages, but every single paragraph was absolutely brilliant.
The premise of this book is that of Alexander Paine Wilson (R), Congressman from Virginia about to launch his reelection campaign. He receives a stuffed aardvark as a gift from his recently deceased lover, charity fundraiser Greg Tampico; and Wilson then descends into panic because he thinks this aardvark is now a tangible link between him and Greg and he will therefore be outed as gay (despite the fact that he is Not Gay and he thinks LGBT is something you order in a diner; sidenote - that line actually made me cackle).
The book flips back and forth between Wilson and the story of Titus Downing, the taxidermist who stuffed the aardvark originally, and his own illicit affair with the naturalist who had the aardvark hunted. The juxtaposition between the two stories allows for some achingly funny comedy and really poignant moments - and the ending of the taxidermist storyline, while handled with the most deft of comedic touches, was also just so heartbreakingly sad. And Anthony's use of those two storylines as foils for each other goes to show her technical savvy; because the sadness of the Victorian story serves to underline the farce of the Congressman story to a tee.
And, oh boy, is the political farce delicious. It's high-wire, high-stakes political satire that never tips into the implausible or the absurd, but is just excruciatingly funny. Everything starts to unravel for Wilson when he's stopped by a traffic cop, a Democrat with an axe to grind against Wilson's very conservative social policies. The way everything ratchets up, but without Wilson ever being jolted out of his hilarious self-delusion, and the distance between the reality and Wilson's narration, makes it so much fun to watch Wilson as he self-destructs even though it makes you wince in sympathy. It's a thin line to walk, but Jessica Anthony walks it perfectly, and her language is crisp, precise, and above all, uproariously funny. Also, the little touches about Wilson being obsessed with Reagan are just delightfully astute and tongue-in-cheek.
There are also some really interesting musings on religion, evolution and the soul that served as great bookmarks to the delightful romp that is the story of the aardvark.
All told, I thoroughly enjoyed Enter the Aardvark - it was wonderfully well-written, sharply funny, and definitely a contender for my Best of 2020 list. I highly, highly, highly recommend.