The angry, crazy rich man

In “Reverse Lightning,” one state in a fractured America is ruled by Permanent President Mal Malenkovich. He is a mad billionaire with dictatorial impulses.

I drafted this novel in 2010, when Trump was just a TV host — an American asterisk. So Malenkovich is in no way modeled on that unworthy politician. In a way, Malenkovich was a prediction of the kind of man who would arise in a sick and dispirited society. A supreme egotist. A man who’d come by his money dishonestly. A man who made secret deals with foreign countries in order to stay in power. A pretender with a secret longing to be admired. And ultimately, a man with a strong self-destructive urge.

The illustration above shows Malenkovich begging his biographer to assassinate him. He even provides the gun. He senses his ruin coming, and feels that an assassination will make him a martyr. They’ll build statues to him in town squares — he hopes.

Malenkovich is an American type — the successful failure. Sometimes it seems that Americans have collapsed all value systems into one –wealth. The examples are all around us daily. Malenkovich has succumbed to this American disease, although in the end, he realizes he really craves another form of success, which is now out of his reach.

America seems particularly skilled at producing this odd phenomenon — the angry, crazy rich man. What do the Koch brothers have to be angry about? Or Peter Thiel? Or John McAfee? Obviously, their extreme success did not make these people happy. And yet Americans see their lifestyles as aspirational. The private jet. The seaside estate. The squads of aides and sycophants. The TV appearances.

And so, “Reverse Lightning,” a failed America of the near future. Like other writers of dystopian fiction, I’m imagining a future I hope we can avoid.

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