Book review: Basket of Deplorables

David Herman enjoys Tom Rachman's smartly satirical tales.


During last year’s toxic presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton famously called half of Trump’s supporters, “deplorables”, racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.

Tom Rachman’s book of short stories takes Clinton’s “deplorables” and runs with it in increasingly interesting ways. All five stories are set against Trump’s election. The first begins with election night. A swanky party is taking place in New York. Everyone there is a Clinton supporter and Rachman follows their growing horror as it dawns on them that she is going to lose.

What makes the story come alive, though, is not the politics so much as Rachman’s terrific sense of contemporary America. The story buzzes with knowing references to Ottolenghi-style catering, celebrities from Christopher Hitchens to Mick Jagger and “Blitzer and his wolf-pack” — a jokey reference to the CNN presenter (and former JC correspondent), Wolf Blitzer.

The guests are the new elite: fashion designers, “in” publishers and reality TV producers. Their contempt for the so-called flyover states (states you fly over between New York and LA) grows as defeat looms. “States like that shouldn’t hardly exist,” says one. “We should’ve let them secede back in 1861.”

One place that comes in for particular derision is Kalamazoo, half-way between Chicago and Detroit, i.e. nowhere as far as this beau monde is concerned. Kalamazoo is the setting for the second story, where we get a close-up of Trump’s America. Glen is a fat, fortysomething Starbucks barista organising a funeral for his brother, Fleming, who has died in a plane crash. Fleming was an uber-Yuppy, who made huge amounts of money, not all of it legally. Glen is sweet, gentle, good-natured, but in his brother’s eyes, a total loser.

As the stories unfold, there are more and more back references. The two brothers reappear, with all kinds of twists and turns, along with knowing references to Trump, Clinton and Obama and to the new hi-tech America of Uber, iCloud and online dating sites.

Rachman’s characters try to make sense of the political earthquake going on around them, but also the huge changes in social and sexual relations. Nothing is what it seems. Even the smartest and kindest characters find it hard to keep up with the new America.

Rachman is a clever and compelling writer with a terrific turn of phrase and his finger on the pulse of our fast-changing world. These stories are a pleasure to read from start to finish.

Basket of Deplorables by Tom Rachman is published by Riverrun (£8.99) 

David Herman is the JC’s chief fiction reviewer

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