The Intensity of J.T.

Well, my morning is off to an interesting start.

While reading some of Danielle Ryan’s articles on her blog, I was blindsided by the release of a relatively new book I had no idea could be published existed.

The Senility of Vladimir P.: A Novel by Michael Honig

A biting satire of a particular despot and a haunting allegory of the fragility of goodness and the contagion of unchecked power.

Set twenty-odd years from now, it opens on Patient Number One―Vladimir Putin, largely forgotten in his presidential dacha, serviced by a small coterie of house staff, drifting in and out of his memories of the past. His nurse, charged with the twenty-four-hour care of his patient, is blissfully unaware that his colleagues are using their various positions to skim money, in extraordinarily creative ways, from the top of their employer’s seemingly inexhaustible riches.But when a family tragedy means that the nurse suddenly needs to find a fantastical sum of money fast, the dacha’s chef lets him in on the secret world of backhanders and bribes going on around him, and opens his eyes to a brewing war between the staff and the new housekeeper, the ruthless new sheriff in town.

A brilliantly cast modern-day Animal FarmThe Senility of Vladimir P. is a coruscating political fable that shows, through an honest man slipping his ethical moorings, how Putin has not only bankrupted his nation economically, but has also diminished it culturally and spiritually. It is angry, funny, page-turning, and surprisingly moving.

Upon reading the book’s description, the first inklings of excitement rose in my chest – not the familiar warm excitement of discovering what could be a good read, but an excitement tinged with horror that there is indeed a Putin genre (for more information on this, read my I, Putin review coming out next week. Everything is addressed: the blossoming “Putin fiction” genre, head-of-state-as-novel-character, my interest in fictionalized history, etc).

However, the discovery of this novel also awakened other things within my being: the first – an ominous presence; ignited by white-hot shattering hatred of the book and the conditions which brought about its existence; emboldened by the scent of fresh blood.

The second – a weary thing, trying to warn me I’ve reviewed enough Russia books and shouldn’t waste my time with such trifles.

The third – something more benevolent than the first, but almost as powerful – a part of my being long ago sidelined and repressed, but nonetheless still active – questioning, prodding, challenging the world around it, snaring real sentiment with word and imagery in a stack of short stories that grows ever taller. One which sees in the release of Senility of Vladimir P. not a trigger or a trifle, but an opportunity. The only thing of the three deserving of a name: the writer.

It’s hard to awaken all three of these things at once, and harder still to quiet them once they’re up.

Until P.— Library finally realizes, as I did, that this book exists, know that I’ll be behind the screen as always, this time priming myself for the takedown.

One hand splayed across my critic’s notebook; the other leafing through my old journal of manuscript ideas.




  1. Okay, I have a confession to make. A couple of years back when I was forced to take a break from my novel-writing to start researching and writing the book on Russia and Ukraine, I wrote a lengthy short story where one of the main characters was loosely based on Putin – he was the anti-hero of the story (not the villain). It was just for fun and to stay in practice of fiction-writing. Putin is a very interesting person and I’m not surprised that he has inspired fiction writers as a character. I’d just like to see him treated with the nuance and complexity (and good research) that a good fiction writer worth their salt would undertake. Of course, too often these fiction writers seem to have another agenda altogether.

    Liked by 1 person

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