Review of Jerome Tuccille’s New Novel – Revised Version


by Sean Gabb

Review by Sean Gabb
High Desert Barbecue:
A Tale of Suspense, Pyromania and Sexual Tension
by J.D. Tuccille
Stubbed Toe Press, Cornville, Arizona, 274pp – also available via Kindle
ISBN-13: 978-1466448308

High Desert BarbecueI will begin by saying that this is a consistently funny and entertaining novel. It is also hardcore libertarian propaganda. I hope, on both grounds, my readers will see this as a recommendation.

The novel takes place in and around a vast expanse ofArizonathat has been claimed by the American Federal Government. Rollo, a former insurance salesman, has built a shack here, and he lives in a seclusion that he breaks only when he comes into town to visit his friend Scott, or to buy sexual services with the money he earns from growing marijuana. So things go on until, one day, employees of the National Forest Service decide to burn his shack and steal his truck. This sends him off to stay with Scott, whose employer has just discovered that, following a round of downsizing, his well-paid job now involves printing e-mails sent out from head office and faxing them back.

But Rollo’s life has not been turned upside down by some casual act of sadism. The uniformed thugs of the National Forest Service have big plans for him. All radical greens – or hoping to do well from a green agenda – they have decided to burn down much of the wilderness they are employed to protect. They will burn it down and pin all the blame on Rollo. This will give them an excuse to close the whole wilderness to mammalian bipeds, so the trees and other plants that survive the fire can flourish in peace.

Little, however, do these thugs in uniform realise that they have chosen the wrong man to frame. Together with Scott, and Scott’s girlfriend Lami, and their dog Champ – and eventually with a pair of elderly and overweight pornographers – Rollo sets off into the wilderness to get at the truth and have his revenge. The rest of the novel describes how the baddies are shot and poisoned and revealed and framed, and generally ground into the dirt in ways richly deserved. This is a novel in which the good end well and the bad end very badly.

It is also a very polished novel. The plot rolls smoothly forward, propelled by multiple shifts of perspective, and by a careful balance between narrative and libertarian preaching. The characters and their motivations are believable. The locations are adequately described for those of us who have never experienced their like. I repeat my recommendation of the novel It is a fine addition to Jerome’s large and distinguished body of writings.

Now, there are libertarians who take a sniffy view of libertarian fiction. A few months ago, after one of my more frenzied acts of self-promotion, a friend wrote to me fromAustraliato say that writing novels was a diversion from the proper business of a libertarian activist, which was to denounce the State and all its works. I disagree. A point I keep making is that state socialism did not become hegemonic in the twentieth century because the masses read the works of Karl Marx or the Webbs, and voted Labour as a result. What happened was that the intellectual classes read these works, or abridgements of them, and reworked what they found there into novels and films and plays, thereby changing the general climate of opinion.

The libertarian movement is filled with bright young men who have read Human Action or Democracy: The God that Failed, but whose enthusiasm for these has no wider effect. I would like Hoppe and von Mises – among many other of our writers – to be popular bestsellers. But it is the nature of things that they will not. Take away the patronage of theSovietState and of western universities, and I doubt if the heavier works of Karl Marx would have sold more than a few thousand copies a year. The difference is that the state socialists have had popular culture as their transmission mechanism, and our movement is filled with people who think that novel writing is somehow letting the side down. Of course, if we are to get anywhere at all, we need our Hoppes and we need our L. Neil Smiths. And we need Jerome Tuccille.

One of the central assumptions of High Desert Barbecue is that state employees are, by their nature, morally defective, and that the usual requirements of proportionality do not apply when fighting these people off. For example, in chapter 60, Lani kills a park ranger. He has just killed her dog, but there is no reason to believe that he wants to kill her – even when the story is being told from his point of view, it does not seem that he intends to kill her. Even so, she shoots him dead. She gets away with it. No question is raised that she might have committed a murder. Jerome’s assumption here is that the death of a beloved pet may be avenged even to the point of killing a human being if he works for the State. I am not sure if I agree with this. But I do think it is an arguable case. And I am glad that it has now been put in an accessible work of fiction, rather than in some forbidding text bristling with footnotes.

Another assumption – and this is rather less controversial – is the moral superiority of those who live from voluntary exchange. Take the McGintys – that is, the elderly pornographers. Their occupation is generally despised. Even in films like Boogie Nights, pornographers are shown as not entirely respectable. The McGintys, by contrast, are at peace with themselves and generous to others. See the offer they make to Lani, when she says that she has uploaded a video of statist wrong-doing:

“It’s already up on YouTube.”

“Oh,  YouTube  will  fold  the  first  time  somebody  official waves a take-down order at them, and we already know you’re dealing with government people. Our servers are inAmsterdam. And so is the company that officially owns them. I think we can keep your video online a good long time, even after they find a lawyer who speaks Dutch.”

“Really?”

“Yep. This isn’t our first legal rodeo.”

Lani nodded. “Cool.” [Chapter 72]

Yes, this is a technically competent and ideologically correct novel. It is also consistently enjoyable. With Christmas fast approaching, I gladly recommend High Desert Barbecue as a present.

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7 responses to “Review of Jerome Tuccille’s New Novel – Revised Version

  1. Sean,
    Thank you for that very kind and complete review!

    One clarification: the author of “Radical Libertarianism” and many other books is my father. The (former) Free-Market.Net editor, newspaper columnist and blogger is yours truly. This is my first book, but I hope to produce more worthy of similar reviews.

  2. Oh, oh, oh! Many apologies. I’ll have to rewrite the review.

  3. Hope to read the book some day.

  4. Sean,
    This is a common error, and entirely due to my father’s insistence on giving me his own name, and my insistence on also being a libertarian writer. We frequently receive each other’s correspondence.

  5. Well, it’s now revised – apologies again for the slip!

  6. Thank you!

    By the way, I agree with you completely about the value of popular culture and the need to infuse it with our ideas. Those ideas shouldn’t drown out the artistry — music, books and movies should stand on their own merits — but we need to treat pop culture as a key part of the campaign for hearts and minds. I do think that a constant barrage of songs, novels and cinema that subtly (or not-so-subtly) preach against freedom and individual initiative help to push the culture in a certain direction, We need to push back.

    And we need to have fun doing it.

  7. Indeed, I think the film Ferris Bueller’s Day off did more to spread libertarianism in the 80s than any of those worthy pamphlets about monetary policy and privatising the drains.

    If I had control of the Cato Institute, I’d scrap those dreary briefing papers on day one, and spend some of that $25m budget on a ballet about the early life of Ludwig von Mises!

    Well, I might not go that far – but patronage of the libertarian arts really should be one of the functions of our richer policy institutes.