Dave Eggers’s solution is to fight funny with funny. If the commander-in-chief is a product of the entertainment industry, let’s bring him down entertainingly, he seems to be saying ... a hugely enjoyable parable ... You could call it a satire but this 114-page novella reads more like a nautically themed summary of the past three years ... the writing works because Eggers doesn’t try to be too sly or cerebral. The tone is cartoonish and naive and the illustrations by Nathaniel Russell are childlike, but sinister, reminiscent of a Hilaire Belloc story ... risks coming over as smug and condescending ... Eggers shows better comic timing than McEwan, and greater moral clarity too ... He knows you can’t just lampoon the culprit, you need to hold up a mirror to the whole society. His real target is moral hypocrisy. Many of the captain’s supporters see what a despicable human he is. But he serves their interests. And Eggers doesn’t miss a chance to take a dig at the Democrats either ... Eggers doesn’t have to exaggerate, he just has to pick and choose his details. The Captain and the Glory is funny because it’s true.
With hilariously identifiable characters, chillingly brazen criminality, and burgeoning totalitarianism conveyed in a mesmerizing, fairy-tale cadence, Eggers, in concert with nimble and expressive illustrator Russell, presents an ingenious, incisive, grimly entrancing fable reflecting our nation’s ever more alarming predicament.
The Trump presidency has been exhaustively assailed by satirists, and it’s not Eggers’s fault if this parable feels overfamiliar. That he nonetheless makes his story engaging, disturbing and sometimes genuinely funny is a testament to his skill as a writer. This, combined with the pleasure many take in seeing Trump lampooned, will make the book a reliable stocking-filler in left-leaning homes ... That said, it’s mostly composed of the easiest jokes available: Trump as ignoramus, Trump as fat man, Trump as man-baby, Trump wanting to sleep with his daughter, Trump turning into a breathless teenage girl at the approach of the manly Putin ... It is possible this is meant to subtly mock people who believe impeaching Trump is all that’s needed to Make America Great Again, but the few who still harbour this belief will finish the book reassured that Eggers agrees. The broad comedy also becomes jarring as the mass murders of foreigners and dissidents escalate, culminating in a dinner thrown by a Kim Jong-un figure that features a hollowed-out corpse turned into a trough for guacamole. The cartoon gore feels dehumanising when the authoritarians being satirised have real victims ... In general, it is successful as a gift book, whose better jokes can be read aloud to approving chuckles after Christmas dinner. As a significant satire of the political crisis in America, it falls woefully short.
What purpose does all this serve? After numerous insider accounts of Trump’s White House antics and as the impeachment proceedings rumble on, Eggers’ novella reads less like the biting satire it hopes to be and more like a quick primer on Trump’s presidency so far, albeit one wrapped in a thin veneer of fiction ... the book fails to be more troubling, more shocking than the world as it already is. In our hyper-satirical age, Eggers’ proposal is just too modest.
Eggers has developed an affinity for fablelike tales that sound alarms about global economics, technology, and authoritarianism. This shallow, needless Trump parable is the worst of them. That’s mainly because the metaphorical veneer is so thin it all but renders the book unnecessary ... Anybody who needs the Trump administration explained to them in lightly fictionalized, fifth grade–primer prose is probably beyond Eggers’ help. But there’s little to appeal to anybody else: The deliberately simple, would-be comic style softens the dangers Eggers means to call out, and his concluding messages about how to right the ship are cloying ... An ill-advised take on The Emperor's New Clothes that's limp when it isn't condescending.