FOTUS: A Novel – Book Review

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By: Michael Aaron Coopersmith | mcoopersmith@radford.edu

The premise of FOTUS: A Novel is that in an alternate world, a white male self-aware fetus gains traction from a viral video of him answering basic trivia. The fetus then runs for President of the United States of America, as one does, under the banner of the Republican Party.

Throughout the book, our main character, President Alexander Jackson Rett, the self-aware fetus, must combat looming impeachment, party-infighting, terrorists, and European dictators. With each adversity that Alex pushes through, he begins to grow as a character slowly.

The story takes place during Alex’s first term, after his support for a bill turns his party against him. He is under the threat of impeachment, and the most rational thing he can do is to drink himself into a two-day coma.

During that time, his press secretary makes up the lie that his comatose mother has had another stroke. This lie shoots up his approval rating to the low nineties, with the nation now looking upon him for “guidance.”

Alex chooses to read his daily briefs and finds that a dictator of an eastern European nation called “Hangry” is violating human rights. Alex then holds a ceremonial meeting with him in front of a Slavery museum that Alex is about to condemn. A terrorist group known as PONG activates a car bomb that kills Alex’s mother and intern Brayden. The book then ends with PONG launching a missile at the Washington monument and Alex gearing up with a new challenge. This truly is the satire America needed; I wish that I could say that with some seriousness. 

FOTUS: A Novel is a mess of a book, in my opinion. The author, Kevin Kunundrum, created a book, that on a dime, will switch to the format of a play or have “tweets” from other characters thrown in the middle of the narration. 

I can understand why he would do such a thing; currently, literature stands within post-modernism. Writers now experimentally play with story structure to give us a non-linear story from elements of a linear narrative. But I found this post-modern structure created by Kunundrum to be quite sloppy. 

Kunundrum would go from Alex expositing information through his monologues to just throwing in a “tweet” that Alex randomly looks at on his phone. I suppose Kunundrum could be commenting on the president’s attention span, which is always diverted to his phone. Yet, the set up to transition to the “tweet” is excused by Alex continually saying, “Hold on a sec…” or “Speaking of….” The usage of incorporating these “tweets” is used widely throughout this book, so it gets old fast as it feels that it forces plot progression.

With the heavy focus on dialogue, delivering almost all the exposition in the book, it lacks any clear voice when Kunundrum introduces new characters. This can be seen with how each chapter will focus from the perspective of either Alex monologuing, reacting to News stations, or delegating.

Brayden, the other character this book focuses on, falls into the same trap, except replace delegating with complaining, which is repetitive to read. Kunundrum disregards that TV News stations are a visual medium and writes it in the same format as the “tweets.” To which, the character that the chapter is focusing on will comment and then continue onto the next News Channel. 

On the topic of characterization, these characters are quite one-note. Kunundrum writes Alex as an egotistic alcoholic that will do anything to maintain power, and his character doesn’t change throughout the book. Even when Alex loses his mother and Brayden (who he called his personal pet project) to a terrorist attack, all he cares about is to try and run with Usain Bolt. One would think that we would get to see him feel some remorse or sadness about losing his mother and staff member to an attack destined for him. It seems Kunundrum was so “subtle” about Alex’s growth that it wasn’t even there.

Now, for our other character, Brayden, I have never found such a boring character in my life that I was forced to follow throughout a story. Brayden begins the book spineless and regularly drinking after work with his friend, Reggie. First, drinking is not a personality trait. Kunundrum continuously writes characters drinking, to either have fun or get them in a bar to watch the news on television. Even in one chapter, Brayden will go from one bar to another and continue to watch TV. I felt that this was such a waste of a chapter. I don’t care about any of these characters, nor do I enjoy their presence or commentary.

Now, FOTUS: A Novel falls under the satire genre, yet, the book’s “commentary” is incredibly cliché. FOTUS: A Novel tries to make political and social commentary but falls on its face due to a lack of execution and detail. It feels that all the book does is make a comment about “Republicans are so this…” or “Democrats are like this….” This goes on with every conflict throughout the book.

Contrary to what I’ve been saying throughout this review, the book did make me laugh once. I mean, a million jokes in one book, it’s bound to make you laugh at least once.

After Alex’s secretary of the Press lies about Alex’s mother having another stroke, the “SNL rip-off” makes one bad joke that causes the audience to riot. It’s quite a humorous concept that any criticism towards a president that has high approval ratings at the time is lost and received with anger; that all it could take was one bad joke to set people off when they are blinded by politics. It had layers and was structured in a coherent way that made it enjoyable to read. Sadly, this one good thing didn’t last, and I was thrown back into another one of Alex’s boring monologues.

If you want to read a book that contains a funny joke here and there, then you can give FOTUS a try. I didn’t enjoy most of it, the characters are one-note, and don’t have any interesting conflicts or commentary. The book also has a rough structure and a dull tone. But, what could truly have saved the book was the commentary, which was sadly cliché and weak. And now that I’ve finished with this review, I’m left with the conundrum of how this book got published.  

Read other book reviews on The Tartan, including Under the Trestle and The Glass Castle.

The Verdict
  • 4/10
    Score - 4/10
4/10

Not Really Worth the Read

If you want to read a book that contains a funny joke here and there, then you can give FOTUS a try. I didn’t enjoy most of it, the characters are one-note, and don’t have any interesting conflicts or commentary.