Pity the satirist: He labors under a double burden. There is, first and foremost, the need to be funny. Whatever kind of laughter the satirist conjures—whether it be queasy or full-out—the jokes have to land. Comedians have no safety net, and the ground is hard-packed. Then there is the conviction, now commonplace, that our world has passed some sort of absurdity threshold where reality is so bizarre that it leaves no room for the satirist’s use of caricature and exaggeration. With a sitting president of the United States rage-tweeting incoherently into the wee hours of the night, the satirist might justifiably feel like setting down his pen once and for all.
So you have to admire the chutzpah of Randy Boyagoda, whose latest novel, Original Prin, leaps into the satirical fray with both feet. “Eight months before he became a suicide bomber,” the first sentence begins, “Prin went to the zoo with his family.” Above the zoo there is a billboard showing “two furry gifts from China snuggled in the smiling Prime Minister’s lap, chewing bamboo shoots that pointed in perilous directions.” Seeing this, Prin winces with “a sympathetic twinge in his own groin,” but you can be sure that Boyagoda-the-satirist is aiming some of those shoots directly at his readers’ tender parts.