Book Quote:

“The first rule of politics is ‘Do unto others before they do unto you.’ ”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte  (JAN 25, 2011)

It was during the 2008 presidential race that author Christopher Buckley’s delightful novel, Supreme Courtship, was released. Presciently, in the book, he had pitted two characters against each other: a senator who had run for president, served as chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, and who “just couldn’t shut up,” against a “glasses-wearing, gun-toting television hottie.” Months after the novel was conceived, Governor Sarah Palin turned out to be a nominee for Vice President running against then Senator Joe Biden. It truly was a case of life imitating fiction, Buckely later recalled in an interview. “I am announcing my retirement from satire,” he joked.

This “anything can happen here, it’s Washington” attitude also permeates a much buzzed about new novel, O, by a Washington insider who prefers to remain anonymous. Press materials about the author state merely: “The author is someone who has been in the room with Barack Obama and knows his world intimately.” This might indeed be the case, but that intimate knowledge of the president’s world unfortunately does not translate well on to the page. Even if the book promises to give us a close look at what the President—referred in the book just as “O”—is thinking, there is not much here that is new. The cool, collected temperament, the slight air of haughtiness, the “no-drama” Obama, even the smoking habit—are all old stomping grounds for avid political junkies.

O: A Presidential Novel is set mostly in the immediate future and is about the 2012 presidential campaign. As the novel opens, O’s campaign manager, Stru Trask has to abruptly quit after he’s caught in an inappropriate relationship with a high school senior—she works for an escort service Trask patronizes. Enter Cal Regan, the new campaign manager, an old Chicago hand, who forms the central glue in the novel. For a while, Cal himself is going out with a young journalist, Maddy Cohan, but she breaks off the relationship in the interest of objectivity after she is assigned to work on the campaign trail.

O’s opponent is not The Barracuda, as he describes Sarah Palin, but Tom “Terrific” Morrison. While readers might speculate about which real life person each character in the book most closely relates to, there’s probably not an equivalent for Tom Morrison out there. He seems to be a cross between General Colin Powell and Governor Mitt Romney.

Among the most recognizable characters in the book is Bianca Stefani, publisher of the online magazine Stefani Report, who appears to be modeled after Arianna Huffington. It is this “Stefani Report” that breaks a crucial story during the campaign trail—potentially threatening to disgrace Cal Regan by showing him to be an inept campaign manager.

The Morrison campaign is not without troubles of its own. Channing-Mills, a company for which Morrison once worked as CEO, is under investigation by the FBI for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. And Morrison just might have his fingers dirty.

As the story chugs along, the author peppers the novel with truisms about Washington but many of them ring trite. “Paradoxes threatened to suffocate every initiative,” the author writes. “Everything mattered and nothing mattered. Everything was urgent and nothing had priority. Hurry up! Not so fast!”

The story’s characters are also often prone to immature impulses. It is hard to believe for example, that on the eve of the Democractic Convention, O’s campaign manager would get wildly drunk and sleep with a young press aide, only to recall none of it the next morning. Then there’s Walter Lafontaine, a young man who pins his hopes on “O” during the 2008 campaign but has since been rebuffed by the administration. Walter’s reaction to the administration’s indifference comes across as adolescent petulance rather than the disappointment of a mature adult.

Even if O doesn’t quite live up to its promise or offer any profound political insights, it finally is a breezy tale—one that hardcore political junkies might enjoy. As the novel reaches the end, right up to the eve of Election Day, we watch as the pace picks up, and as each campaign has the potential to be derailed by one misplaced comment or one faulty judgment.

As for the president’s re-election campaign, by the time the curtain falls down on O, the race has become a dead heat, all because a certain rich man decided to drop a precious nugget of information at an inopportune moment. It might sound implausible that such huge outcomes can turn on so little but then again, this is Washington. As Christopher Buckley once pointed out, stranger things have happened here.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (January 25, 2011)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More for political junkies:

Game Change by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin

Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley

Put a Lid on It by Donald E. Westlake


January 25, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Humorous

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