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Back in 2003, during the War on Terror’s nascence, Joan of Arc refocused their approach into a political hardcore act called Make Believe. Across three albums, Tim Kinsella waxed avant-garde on Dubya’s administration and all its fallout. Never one to shirk expression, the era lit a most passionate fire under his ass. He howled his blend of surreal poetry and news headlines past and present, occasionally to the point of vomiting in the back alleys of venues after live gigs. Bite unmitigated, he once summated the Abu Ghraib detainee abuse scandal to have been Private Lynndie England’s time spent “traveling abroad.” When Featherproof Books established Kinsella as an author publishing his first novel in 2011, it could have been gleaned fate that he would eventually find his way to penning a satirical epic of the Bush family history.
Within Sunshine on an Open Tomb is an alternate telling of how our United States came to be, though Kinsella tells it with such conviction through the lens of his narrator that he may well view it to be fact himself. The voice belongs to a fictional child of George H.W. Bush, disfigured from inbreeding and out of the media’s spotlight until summoned by his own volition to set the record straight about The Family’s lineage and corrupt involvements dating back to the dawn of our nation.
Kinsella rarely receives due credit for how funny he is, and his humor is demonstrated both in crass terms and high concept here. The narrator’s habits resemble that of a manchild in perpetual stupor. His diet consists largely of Jell-O in grotesque quantities. While everyone to his belief can understand his meaning, his speech is restricted to the same three-word utterance over and over again: “Duh, unga-bunga.” Naturally, no personage is safe. These politicians are at the behest of a writer who does not stand on ceremony to write someone as they are; a writer that omits not the slimy deeds of one’s past and has built a career turning atrocity into creative inspiration. Remember Private England. Now meet a political dynasty’s worth of characters, many of them similarly war criminals. Many of them not as similarly evaded conviction. The Family’s ties to conspiracies are so certain that they could fill an entire season’s worth of Ancient Aliens and their bloodline is so inbred that their portrait could be painted by Diego Velázquez.
At times, a key might be appreciated for certain proper nouns that Kinsella swaps out in favor of metaphorical titles. Some like the silly PuDont = DuPont are of course easy, but mere throwaways compared to more central figures whose identities are not so simply defined through their epithets. Sunshine is a thoroughly enjoyable read, but consider that it does work best with an audience whose interest in the source material exceeds pedestrian-tier but is willing to be taken down a rabbit hole, à la Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle or Jonathan Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects.
The 24-hour news cycle has long been a steady tickertape of impropriety, more recognizably so since 2016 when an orange snake oil salesthing took up office in the White House in the fraught system’s most bafflingly effortless caper yet. People are lately galvanized to educate themselves and take action because the message has never been so plainly telegraphed that our government is fucked. I do not suspect Kinsella bears any lifestyle likeness to that of a doomsday prepper, for his language in this novel has already embraced said pestilence with borderline nihilistic acceptance.
One of Kinsella’s favorite tendencies is to recount a nugget of pop culture in his own words. The habit began in The Karaoke Singer’s Guide to Self-Defense with a character’s brief yet inspired pontification on the power of The Who’s “Eminence Front”. Let Go and Go On and On followed, a novel consisting entirely of a second person narrative detailing the schema of every onscreen appearance made by Laurie Bird. He can’t help but do the same with the opening to River’s Edge at one point in Sunshine, although a step back from the microscope reveals the tome itself to be the ultimate undertaking of his revisionist prose. For those who find Howard Zinn to be somewhat tame, Sunshine on an Open Tomb is Tim Kinsella’s History of the United States.
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