‘Not noticing’ may not be the first thing you’d look for in a police chief, but in the Bruce administration it’s an essential skill.

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McKibben calls this a fable, but I don’t know. What if people like Vern in states like Vermont all over the nation became accidental, nonviolent secessionists? What if they inspired their states’ equivalents of town halls to talk about and even vote on leaving the nation to be their own independent countries? If enough of us did, it might make those yahoos in D.C. sit up and take notice of the rest of us for a change.

Yeah. I’m dreaming.

But even if this book is only a fable, it is funnier and smarter than anything Aesop ever dreamed up. Radio personality Vern Barclay is disobediencing in his own civil way the opening of a new Walmart, when computer geeky Perry Alterson—and soon to be Vern’s fellow fugitive—makes the new store’s sewers run backwards. Vern explains.

”My compatriot had, he later said, intended it as a kind of visual pun—a play on the fact that he considered the store to be a crappy venture marketing crappy merchandise, though ‘crappy,’ I must say, was not the word he used.”

His sidekick has some regrets

”You know I’m still kind of sorry about the sewage,” said Perry. “I hadn’t really thought it through.”

but blam, they’re on the lam and doubling down. They start podcasting from Radio Free Vermont, ‘underground, underpowered, and underfoot’, advocating for Vermont to break away from the rest of these United States to form their own independent nation. Joining their crusade is Sylvia, who runs a School for New Vermonters.

We here in Vermont are of two minds about newcomers—actually, a good many of us are of one mind, but that would make you sad to hear. Everyone agrees, however, that if you’re determined to move here it would be better if you knew how to fit in, not cause trouble, and be a decent neighbor.

Soon they are joined by Trance, Vermont’s own Olympic gold winner in the biathalon, and let’s not forget Vern’s 92-year old mother, not to mention Vermont’s scone-powered Olympic biathalon team, and not forgetting what appears to be everyone in Vermont trained by Sylvia to use a Stihl saw with the proper protective gear.

They are up against Governor Leslie R. Bruce (whose picture is in Roget’s next to the Hannah Arendt quote about “the banality of evil”), a less-than-government security agency called Whitestream (heh), and state police commissioner Tommy Augustus.

“…He’s the state police commissioner because he drove the governor’s car for two terms and was extremely good at not noticing which lobbyists were slipping in and out of the backseat. ‘Not noticing’ may not be the first thing you’d look for in a police chief, but in the Bruce administration it’s an essential skill.”

Really, these chumps don’t stand a chance against Vern and the gang. A delightful read, and now I need to find a good biography of Ethan Allen.

Update: A friend of mine originally from Vermont read this book and said that it felt to him like a “We’ve got ours, everyone else keep out” book. I read Radio Free Vermont concurrently with James Comey’s A Higher Loyalty, which is in part about the “America First” movement that resulted in our current administration. I’d wondered why the two books felt so complementary. Dude’s got a point.


Read more of my book reviews on Goodreads here.

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