The first sentence of Basket of Deplorables announces, “You can’t see me right now. Then again, I can’t see you either.” You can take the narrator, Georgina, literally: A recent head injury has left her blind, and adrift at a buzzing election-night party at a Tribeca loft where she feels increasingly alienated from the intellectuals, musicians, and n+1 editors in her social circle. But her statement applies to all five of Tom Rachman’s new stories, released on Audible in the U.S. and in book form in Britain and Australia. Set consciously in the current moment and a few years from now, the darkly satirical tales consider a broader kind of cultural myopia—one that afflicts conservatives and liberals alike.
There’s something inevitable, if not rote, in the first wave of cultural works responding to the Trump presidency. Most seem sprung from outrage or sheer incomprehension: “The nightmare is in high gear,” is how the playwright Tony Kushner described his in-progress play about Donald Trump to The Daily Beast. But even in this early phase, it’s apparent that the 45th president is as difficult a subject as he is irresistible. Neither satire nor fiction can adequately capture him. So writers might be wise to consider him obliquely, as Rachman does: as a presence in the room, not a focal point. Basket of Deplorables is less interested in Trump than in the people and factors that enabled his presidency, and sometimes not even in those. Its point is that Americans’ increasing polarization and suspicion of each other is leading to a place that could make even 2017 seem like halcyon days for humanity by comparison.