It’s hard for conservatives like us to find decent entertainment that doesn’t, almost invariably, hit us with the Left Wing Sucker Punch.
Take “The Blind Side,” for example. In an otherwise conservative-friendly, underdog story, Sandra Bullock’s character asks the post office cashier why things are running slowly in one sequence. The cashier nods to the framed portrait of President George W. Bush hanging behind her.
It felt as if, halfway through filming, the producers realized, “Hey, fellas, we haven’t signaled our liberal bona fides very clearly yet to this point… what can we do to take half our audience out of the movie and remind them that we are their betters?”
Don’t get me wrong, ol’ 43 is imminently jabbable, but in the context of a movie about football, maybe dial it back a tick.
My approach? Assume it’s coming, stay relaxed since they say that’s the best way to survive a car crash, and move on. I also try to be pleasantly surprised on those rare occasions the Left Wing Sucker Punch doesn’t come (usually in something starring Tim Allen). I like to call this Being A Grown-Up and using my adult brain to ignore it.
But sometimes… sometimes… I like to lean into it, feel the burn, cleanse with pain. It’s why, a few times a day, I watch 5 minutes of MSNBC to see how they can blame Trump for whatever is happening at the moment and why it makes him racist.
It’s why I can’t turn off “JFK” when I flip past it, Left Wing Malarial fever dream that it is, because it’s Oliver Stone at the top of his game. It’s why I adored HBO’s “Watchmen”, perhaps the woketest woke that ever woked, because Regina King is awesome and I’m a comic book nerd.
Which brings me to “Wanderers,” a new novel by Chuck Wendig.
My first exposure to Wendig came via the comic book YouTuber “Diversity & Comics.” Wendig, at that time the writer of Marvel’s acclaimed “Shadow of Vader” series, was fired off the book following a series of vicious anti-Trump Tweets.
Anti-Trump Tweets from creative-types were not rare in 2018, but Wednig’s dove deep into the Thesaurus of Dirty Words.
WHOOPS! Marvel has fired author Chuck Wendig over his ‘F*ck all the GOP,’ ‘F*ck Trump’ Twitter rant https://t.co/HVTZHo8H75
— Twitchy Team (@TwitchyTeam) October 13, 2018
I, for one, disagreed with his dismissal. I mean, isn’t it easier to see where your enemy is shooting from? With no fake veil of impartiality (cough *Maddow* cough)? Just write a good story, consarn it!
As fate would have it, my editor at Exit Zero (a Cape May, NJ weekly you should read starting with “The Undertow” on pg. 25) bugged me to read this amazing new book he’d just finished.
“What’s it called?” I asked.
“Wanderers,” he answered.
“Who wrote it?” I asked.
“Chuck Wendig,” he answered.
I shriveled. Just a little.
“He’s kind of a crazy anti-Trump guy on Twitter,” I told my editor.
“Just feckin’ read it, ya pansy,” my editor replied (he’s Scottish).
And you know what? He was right. More than once I’d upbraided my liberal-leaning friends to separate the art from the artist (think Orson Scott Card, Frank Miller, David Mamet). Here was my chance to show I was truly superior to them.
I would read “Wanderers” by the nuclear-level anti-Trump progressive-bomb jerk Wendig. And I would do it for America.
It started as a hate read, the way I’d joylessly slogged through the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy a few years ago (“… and here rose a joyous tree, but not just any joyous tree, but a joyous tree borne from the joyous acorn of a mightier joyous tree that itself sprung from a joyous acorn that once tumbled joyously ‘cross the thorny climes of Rivendell, tended to by the joyous son of the joyous son of the son of the blah blah blah and so on and so forth for 7,000 pages ad infinitum…”
My fury abated as I churned through the pages and came to the startling realization that, “Holy gosh… this is really good.”
You see? Where you could never, ever, in a million years get a liberal to admit that a piece of conservative art has any kind of merit, conservatives like us are evolved enough to appreciate art for what it is; art. Regardless of the source. (See: “The China Syndrome”, “M*A*S*H”, “Born on the 4th of July”).
To that end, “Wanderers” is simply astonishing.
A summary; without giving too much away (and there’s a lot to give away), “Wanderers” starts with a young girl, Shana, discovering that her little sister, Nessie, is not in her bed one morning. Is she in the bathroom? Out working the farm with dad? Or has she run away again, the way she did when mom left?
Turns out, she’s just walking. Dead-eyed, robotic walking. Not dead, but not quite alive, heading who knows where? And any attempt to stop her would prove bad for Nessie and equally terrible for anyone in her path.
Along the way she is joined by others. No reason, no explanation, people who just stopped “living” and followed, as if guided by voices.
The story expands in expected (and unexpected) ways to involve the CDC, the “Shepherds” (who tend to the wanderer “flock”) and an AI program called Black Swan, to ramp the story up to its inevitable yet deftly unpredictable ending.
Yes, it is the work of a Left Wing Extremist, and those elements can’t help but bleed through; a subplot involving a White Supremacist movement can be seen coming from several miles away; black and brown people, no matter how smart or capable, are treated like second class citizens; lots of White People are capital-E Eeeee-vil.
And so on.
The story also takes place in the midst of a presidential election, where the pious, misunderstood, female incumbent (groan) faces off against a dog-whistle-racist, business tycoon challenger (double groan).
For added effect, a Steven Tyler-esque rockstar is introduced for reasons that are… okay, I guess. (Seems a few Social Justice Warrior boxes would have gone unticked without him.)
This may all sound negative, but believe me, it’s not. Just letting you know to expect some tropes that, by now, have become liberal shorthand. Said and done, the crackerjack story overcomes any virtue signaling and earns its place in your mind, and maybe your heart. So much so you can just about tune out the static after 100 pages or so.
(The book is roughly 800 pages)
This is the book Stephen King would have written if he was the Stephen King we loved in the ’80s and not the crank currently obsessed with Twitter-owning President Donald Trump all day, every day.
Trump spoke today with Ivanka Trump and Bill Belichick. We are saved.
— Stephen King (@StephenKing) March 18, 2020
Still, there are echoes of “The Stand” in “Wanderers:” global catastrophe, Colorado, people walking, etc. But only echoes. And it might be burying the lede to only now mention the world-altering, bat-based pandemic that throws the world into chaos.
(No lie, “coronavirus” is name-checked within the first 50 pages.)
“Wanderers” is, by far, the most Current Day novel I’ve ever read, Michael Crichton-level prescient. And that’s about the highest praise I can give. While I wish a few more pages had been dedicated to fleshing out some of the supporting characters, this is about as tight an 800-page book as you’re likely to read.
Wendig, if you keep your storytelling this sharp and concise, you can hate me all you want. For my conservative friends, I suggest you buckle up your chin straps, take a few healthy shots of Jim Beam, and enjoy the hell out of “Wanderers.”
Terry O’Brien is a weekly columnist for Exit Zero magazine. He has been a professional actor since 1993 (neither rich nor famous) and a professional singer since 1995, performing several nights a week in and around Cape May, NJ.