I knew I was going to like Mark Binelli's "Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die" when I read the quote that precedes the first page, in which a journalist tells his editor:
"There's no story in it -- just a couple of wops in a jam."
Binelli sustains the dark comic pitch through the entire rich story, though it's worth noting that his two protagonists suffer through the dreary routine of their film-clown careers in much the same way as any other hapless working-class strivers suffer through their hard days. Binelli's decision to render history's doomed anarchists as film clowns made me wonder how many other works of literature present pairs of vaudeville comedians as symbols for long-suffering humanity, and I thought it'd be worth mentioning a few. Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" comes to mind, of course. Beyond that, there's Kurt Vonnegut's "Slapstick", which uses Laurel and Hardy as a core motif, and there's also a good Paul Auster novel called "The Music of Chance", in which a poker player becomes the prisoner of two insidious men, Flower and Stone, who strongly resemble a silent-film comedy team.
I'm really not sure what exactly Beckett and Vonnegut and Auster are up to with these symbolic comic duos, but whatever it is I have a feeling Mark Binelli was aiming for something similar with "Sacco and Vanzetti", and I think he hits his mark.
Despite my affection for this book, I have to mention that at some point I became hopelessly lost in the rich and celebrity-packed narrative, and once I lost the thread of logic I could not find it again. The book works well as a conceptual piece but it may have tested my patience a little too much -- I wasn't sure whether I should read this book or simply "apprehend it" the way one apprehends a cubist painting.