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The Pearls of Barbara Bush 

Torrid love or harbinger of America's demise?

If all that Karen Finley offered was a naked George W. Bush on a rubber sheet, cooing, "I'm a dirty baby, so dirty," while Martha Stewart makes a patriotic glittery good thing of the presidential dick, this book still would be worth the ride. OK, that and the part where Bush thinks Osama is hiding inside his ass. But Finley's psycho-satire, George & Martha, is so much more.

Told from Martha's point of view, the novella imagines an encounter in a cheap hotel between the Queen of Domesticity and the kinky King of the American Empire -- she a woman of working class immigrant beginnings acting out the role of an aristocrat, he a man of elite privileges playing at being a country bumpkin Everyman. Ahnold and others are on the TV at the Republican National Convention. Martha is due to start her prison sentence the next day. So they fill the time with baby play and blow jobs, Stewart at one point urging Bush to, "Fuck mommy between her breasts and give mommy a pearl necklace."

OK, so the premise is rather outrageous (and the illustrations are crude in both senses of the word), but Finley -- taking her cues from the George and Martha in Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- had the sense to underplay the rest, crafting a complicated, bitter relationship between the two as they howl out their personal demons between episodes of disappointing sex.

Finley reveals enough of their suffering to give them at least a measure of sympathy. Bush has the tortured soul of the torturer and is pathetically aware of his own mental shortcomings, of his failure to win his parents' approval. And from Martha: "I am guilty because I try to make this ugly world of corrupt, mean men a little more pleasant for people who don't have as much power as you ... I am the nation's mother and everyone hates their mother."

If George and Martha Washington represent America's beginnings, then Finley's contemporary George and Martha warn of America's end in our present corruptions: our materialism, our obsession with sex, our arrogance, our violence. Just look at the mess we've made.

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