‘The Arrangements’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s short story on the Trumps, centres on Melania (The Donald’s pouting, smoky-eyed, fearsomely sculpted and scripted third wife) and is a masterpiece of characterization. Melania’s character and motivation. And that of Candidate Trump, the man who would save America but can’t even protect his wife from feeling used, un-loved, undone by Donald’s obsession with himself (and with his daughter Ivanka. A subtly revealing line in the story reads: “Donald admired in his daughter qualities he would not abide in a wife.”)
Click here to read ‘The Arrangements’. The story is the first of two pieces of “election fiction” commissioned by The New York Times Book Review on the American election.
To me, it seems that the story answers a question asked by many disappointed people fearful of the way the world is going. (Brexit, Trumpism, the rise of the far right across Europe, political legitimacy for Narendra Modi’s Hindutva agenda in India).
Those who don’t like the dark current in the affairs of men (and women) ask if political fiction is relevant in the age of social media? Does it pack much of a punch any more? Are writers doing their job by holding a mirror up to society by telling stories we want to hear but which also force us to think?
Ms Adichi’s story on the Trumps provides a good answer to these questions. She’s done something that is impossible in a piece of journalism – imagined herself into Melania’s life with Donald Trump. With his children from other marriages; his uninformed view of her and all things “European”; his disinterest in what she thinks or wears or feels about anything; his need of her only to not dissent, look suitably gorgeous and be submissive.
“He would never be a truly content person, she knew this, because of that primal restlessness that thrummed in him…” the Melania Trump in the story thinks, terrified that Donald might win the election and the “luxurious peace” of her life will be shattered. Melania has bought this with her body and her calm canned responses to her egotistic husband’s demand for approbation – in bed, the boardroom, the dinner table.
She is startled he has got so far in politics.
“Americans were so emotionally young, so fascinated by what Europeans knew to be world-weary realities. They were drawn to Donald’s brashness and bluster and bullying, his harsh words, even the amoral ease with which untruths slid out of his mouth. She viewed these with a shrug — he was human, and he had his good points, and did Americans truly not know that human beings told lies?”
As a third wife, an immigrant in America, with heavily accented English and little interest in good causes, Melania Trump comes across as a figure that unexpectedly arouses sympathy for her parasitic connection with The Donald.
That it is so believable says as much about the qualities we suspect Mr Trump to possess (based on his public persona and behaviour) as about Ms Adichi’s skill.