July 5, 2016
Inspired by a political climate that its editors called “stranger than fiction,” the New York Times Book Review has commissioned its first ever short story: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s “The Arrangements.”
In an article introducing the piece, John Williams of the Times explains that the Book Review “decided to turn to fiction to see how it might illuminate today’s befuddling political climate.” Befuddling, certainly, but at least this befuddlement has resulted in a piquant artistic contribution.
A modern spin on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, “The Arrangements” replaces the genteel figure of Clarissa Dalloway with a different kind of hostess—Melania Trump. Adichie explains in an interview that she was intrigued by Ivanka Trump, who “seems to me too thoughtful and too intelligent to truly believe that her father’s erratic, ungrounded policy positions would genuinely be good for the United States. And so I imagined her as a kind of unknowable character, and I needed a foil of sorts for her, which is how Melania Trump became the center of the story.” As for the relationship between politics and literature, Adichie says, “[f]iction can remind us—and because of the blood-sport nature of politics, we constantly need reminding—that the players in politics are first human beings.” And “The Arrangements,” told in a stream-of-consciousness style from Melania’s perspective, does just that.
Adichie’s narrative imagines hilarious and often quietly heartbreaking details from the personal lives of the Trump clan, such as the Donald’s texting habits:
“[Melania’s] phone chimed; a text from Donald. I’m leading in the latest poll. National! Nice!
It was probably what he had tweeted as well. He copied and pasted his tweets to her in text messages. Once she had suggested he hold back on a tweet and he replied that he had already tweeted it. He showed her his tweets after he had sent them, not before.”
Throughout the story, Adichie does an excellent job of casting Melania—one of the most scrutinized women in the world—in a sympathetic light, without losing sight of the fact that her life and her husband’s politics border on the absurd. Melania’s first person narration is calm and mostly restrained, yet her few moments of pure emotion give the story a much needed jolt.
“The Arrangements” is amusing and a bit heartbreaking at the same time, and Adichie’s attempt at navigating the current political climate through fiction is definitely worth a read. If, as Frank Zappa once said, “politics is the entertainment branch of industry,” then it’s good to know that we can count on the Book Review for a literary counterpoint to the cable news circus. And for all those who prefer their entertainment in graphic novel form, get ready for Ted Rall’s Trump, available this July. To say nothing of the book’s artistry and humor it’s also a well researched, nuanced and informative take on America’s next top fascist.