The Global War on Morris, by Steve Israel (Simon and Schuster, 289 pages)
Democrat Steve Israel is a congressman who represents New York’s 3rd District, which includes Huntington, Oyster Bay and Queens.
He also represents a warning: If ever you should see anyone wearing a “Be Careful or I’ll Put You in My Novel” T-shirt, run the other way.
In a hilarious and biting takedown of Washington’s movers and shakers — make that Washington’s Republican movers and shakers — Israel delivers a comic novel that entertains and skewers in equal measure. Former Vice President Dick Cheney might not like it — nor Republican operatives Karl Rove or Lewis “Scooter” Libby — but conservatives who can laugh at themselves (a useful skill in an increasingly divisive society) may find common ground with liberals in liking this book. The War on Morris is a fun, alarmingly insightful romp through a fictional landscape dotted with real people and real problems — terrorism, for example, and the Department of Homeland Security.
The titular Morris is an armchair schlub, a dutiful and predictable man whose long-term marriage has grown stale and whose chief pleasures in life are reposing in his RoyaLounger 8000 and watching his beloved Mets.
“Morris refused to do many things in public. Hugging was near the top of the list. Morris didn’t do hugs with strangers. They were too complicated. They involved excessive motion and calibration. Too many things could go wrong.”
A pharmaceutical salesman, Morris Feldstein only perks up when he visits the office of Dr. Kirleski, where an unamicably divorced receptionist, Victoria, always brightens when he enters the doorway.
Well, yes, there will be a romance of sorts developing between the two; that’s a given. But the rest of the tale is not as predictable, and what is commonly called a madcap caper ensues, linking Morris — the least likely to become ensnared in international intrigue — with drug tampering, a sleeper terror cell, an unhappy government agency, and, of course, Dick Cheney, depicted here as a stodgy, humorless power freak intent on raising the nation’s terror level based on his political needs. “Behind his desk, Cheney sat like a statue. Same cool texture. Same frozen expression. Same blue suit and red tie even on a Saturday morning in August.”
In its willingness to portray Washington as a wasteland of stooges, The War on Morris resembles Wag the Dog, the 1997 film that suggests that nothing real happens on the national or international stage, that everything in the news is a Matrix-like inversion of truth manipulated to achieve goals that will never publicly be revealed. But Israel winks while he writes, and the result is a light-hearted treatment of serious subjects that never feels contrived or mean. (Again, Vice President Cheney may feel differently — you’ll have to check with him.) This is a book that Dave Barry could have written, if Dave Barry had inside knowledge of Congress.
From Rona, the beleaguered wife of Morris Feldstein (who insists that the couple buy a Florida condominium to break up the monotony of their lives) to Hassan, the towel boy at the Paradise Hotel and Residences, who endures pains of the flesh while awaiting the call to his 72 virgins, Israel creates a cast of impossibly loveable characters linked together skillfully as happenstance causes the FBI to think hapless Morris is the mastermind of a terrorist plot. It’s seamless, tautly edited fun.