Emily Dickinson wrote that “hope sings a tune without words.” Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies sings words without a tune.
Hope Never Dies launches a new mystery series in which Joe Biden and Barack Obama team up to solve crimes. The novel opens as the former Vice President is wasting away in retirement, watching Obama’s post-presidential life on cable TV and wondering if the former Chief Executive is still his best friend. They haven’t spoken, you see, since leaving office.
Then Biden learns that his favorite Amtrak conductor has mysteriously died, and the Obama-Biden duo reunites to investigate the case.
The novel is marketed as a whimsical bromance that picks up where the profiles, memes and Onion narratives left off. Every interested citizen suspected that the pair’s stars were intertwined; had they not been tied together in the Executive Branch, Obama and Biden would’ve belonged together in a buddy action comedy. But Shaffer, who also wrote The Day of the Donald: Trump Trumps America, is not entirely sure what kind of book he’s writing.
I don’t want to be hard on Shaffer, nor judge his work too politically. He’s an artist of solid ability, whose talents in characterization and narrative are obvious from this novel. But I can’t help but wonder, What was the point of this volume?
Was it nostalgia for the Obama-Biden years? A therapeutic endeavor in the Trump era? A coda to eight years of disappointment? A satire on the Obama-Biden relationship? Or was it simply fanfiction that spiraled outwards, like some wayward Ian Malcolm fractal given independent life?
It’s true that ambiguity is the sharpening-stone of any great art. But Shaffer is writing a book about a cool former President and lovable former Veep teaming up to solve a murder mystery in a sportscar, and he’s doing so in a desperate political hour. So it’s fair to ask, “What does he want to say here?”
Am I supposed to laugh knowingly at the Obama-Biden partnership, or should I project real emotion into it?
I’m unable to say what the point of Biden hunting down the murderer of his favorite Amtrak driver signifies. Or why Shaffer insists that Obama and Biden have a Secret Service chaperone for most of the narrative, therefore dulling most of the possible tension. The reality is that no scene inside the book quite equals the Jeremy Enecio’s art on the cover. There’s a moment where Obama and Biden team fight a biker gang, however, and that comes close.
Obama finished his second term. I finished this book. Neither one of us got quite what we expected.