Has Anyone Seen My Toes?: A Novel
- By Christopher Buckley
- Simon & Schuster
- 288 pp.
- Reviewed by Drew Gallagher
- September 30, 2022
The silly pandemic story you didn’t know you needed.
Years from now, the summer of 2022 might well be known as the Summer of the Comedic Christophers. Sure, some might remember the rising gas prices, the war in Ukraine, and the seemingly endless pandemic as more revealing touchstones of the season. But if we as a society can’t celebrate the fact that both Christopher Moore and Christopher Buckley recently released new books, maybe we should just curl up in the fetal position and sob into the abyss.
You know, like usual.
We need Moore and Buckley at this moment, especially when the latter gives us a protagonist in Has Anyone Seen My Toes? who — unlike those during lockdown who took up half-marathons, hot yoga, and Proust — embraces frozen pizza, “family size” bags of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and chewable Pepto-Bismol to soothe his existential dread.
The aging, unnamed narrator really does want to live to see his little piggies go to market and buy roast beef again. He also wants to wake up one morning in his South Carolina home without his iPhone app fat-shaming him. But he’s navigating the back nine of life during a pandemic, so when he has nothing but time to reflect on his checkered legacy as a screenwriter, that new seven-patty burger at Hippo King sounds like heaven. Plus, his expanding girth is temporary; his new $75,000-a-year concierge doctor has prescribed an appetite suppressant that’ll surely win the war on his waistband.
While he lazes around awaiting life as a thin man, he vows to read some Proust and also write a screenplay that will replace “Swamp Foxes” — a movie known more for its NC-17 rating than its historical veracity — at the top of his Wikipedia page. His earnest script had envisioned a group of dignified courtesans who coax high-ranking Redcoats into their beds, where, during earth-moving congress, the officers would reveal battleplans the prostitutes would then relay to the Continental Army.
After all, General Lafayette did land in the Palmetto State in 1777, and the Swamp Fox, Francis Marion, did demonstrate some of his best cunning in the area, so the concept was plausible. As so often happens in Hollywood, however, the screenwriter’s vision was bastardized — in this case, by a director named Brian with an affection for soft porn, if not American studies:
“An orgy? Brian. He’s the Marquis de Lafayette, not Dirk Diggler.”
Brian shrugged. “He’s nineteen and French. Are you telling me he doesn’t want to get laid?”
“Not to get all historical, but the Marquis de Lafayette didn’t come to America to get his knob polished. He came to fight the British. Why? Because they killed his father in the Seven Years’ War. Not, as you keep calling it, the Hundred Years’ War…And not to nitpick, but he was devoted to his wife. I stipulate that this perhaps made him unusual for a Frenchman. Nevertheless, you’ve now got him in bed with six tarts?”
“Lot of people joined the revolution to get laid, pal.”
“No Brian. I demur. Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin may have joined the revolution to get laid. The Marquis de Lafayette joined the American Revolution to avenge his father. Not to split hairs, but there’s a difference.”
“Where’s the harm in letting the guy get his oil changed before going off to wherever the fuck he went?”
The artistic differences resulted in a movie that enjoyed a much longer life on hotel pay-per-view than on the shelves of the American Film Institute. Still, the narrator’s local reputation as the Yankee who made that period movie with all the naked boobs in it was forged. And yet, if he can just sit down and pen his own “Citizen Kane,” there’s a chance his professional reputation will finally transform from Flynt into Fellini.
Buckley intertwines much of his screenplay-in-progress — a Nazi buddy film that Bialystok and Bloom would’ve been happy to produce — into his narrative and takes obvious delight in writing it. A secondary storyline about the upcoming election for Pimento County coroner that has piqued the narrator’s interest gives the author more opportunities to contemplate our time on this mortal coil.
Death and dementia hover over Has Anyone Seen My Toes? as unwelcome interlopers, and there are moments when a reader may fret that things won’t end happily. Buckley is a pro, though, so even as he offers us a dark glimpse into the gaping maw of pandemic living, he plucks us back from the edge and drops a fresh orange peel into our Negroni.
Drew Gallagher is a freelance writer residing in Fredericksburg, Virginia. He is the first video book reviewer in the 137-year history of the Free Lance-Star Newspaper. You can find some of his video book reviews at Fredericksburg.com.