Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

drawing of a donkey is art on cover of "Primary Colors"Primary Colors is a fictional backroom account of a current—1996—presidential bid by Jack Stanton, the Democratic governor of a southern state.

Henry Burton tells the story. Stanton doesn’t offer Henry a job; he absorbs him into his staff.

The grandson of a famed civil rights leader, Henry had worked for a congressman after college before abandoning the Beltway for a teaching gig. Henry thinks he’s being used as “racial cover,” but he’s very impressed by Stanton’s ability to connect with ordinary people.

He’s less favorably impressed with Stanton’s truth-stretching facility, nevertheless he finds a comfortable perch where he can observe the internal operations of the campaign while “working the phones, doing stuff.”

The novel is packed with historical and political trivia from FDR’s presidency forward: who ran, what made them good candidates, what brought them down.

Primary Colors captures the aspirations and intensity of Stanton’s political campaign as well as the idealism, audacity, dedication, duplicity, and stupidity of the campaigners.

The negativity with which the Democrats regard news organizations like The Washington Post and NPR, which today are trashed by Republicans seems odd, but as I write this in January 2020, the rest of Primary Colors feels very contemporary.

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics
by Anonymous
Random House. ©1996. 366 p.
1996 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Five Days in Paris

Nighttime photo of the Eiffel Tower
Icon and plot are predictable.

In Five Days in Paris, Danielle Steel puts a different spin on her usual romance formula.

The story is about Peter Haskell, marketing man for a major pharmaceutical company who is pushing development of what he hopes will be a break-through drug for cancer treatment.

Steel makes Peter rich, charming, virtuous, and emotionally obtuse. She also has him married to the devoted, only-child of company’s CEO. Peter spent his life trying to escape his farm-boy upbringing; he has maintained no family ties.

In Paris on a trip to meet with a scientist evaluating the new drug, Peter meets Olivia Thatcher, wife of a US senator whose presidential ambition has become all-consuming. Since their baby died, Olivia and Andy have scarcely spoken.

Olivia and Peter spend an entire night talking when the Ritz at which both are staying is evacuated because of a bomb threat. By morning they have become each other’s best friend.

The following day, Olivia “pulls an Agatha Christie,” and disappears. Peter finds her and for the next three days they lovers. Then they each go back to their own lives.

Steel contrives a happy ending, but Five Days feels as if the real story is Peter’s other, earlier days.

Five Days in Paris by Danielle Steel
Delacourt. ©1995. 269 p.
1995 bestseller #03; my grade: C+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal

dust jacket cover is all textGore Vidal’s Lincoln is an absolutely marvelous historical novel, far too good to interest average American readers who propelled North and South to the 1984 bestseller list.

Vidal doesn’t invent stories: He pulls out the stories hidden in historical documents, translates them into contemporary language, and puts them in dramatic context. He lets readers can decode the character and motivation of persons long since dead.

Vidal’s focus is Lincoln’s “White House” years. (During Lincoln’s occupancy, it was called the President’s House.)

The novel opens February, 1861 with president-elect Lincoln’s arrival in Washington, disguised in plain clothes and guarded by detective Allan Pinkerton.

The country has split over slavery.

Several “cotton republics” have already seceded from the Union.

Lincoln’s life has been threatened.

Lincoln has one overriding goal: Maintaining the unity of the states.

Vidal weaves into his narrative contrasting and conflicting impressions of Lincoln held by the people with whom he spent the most time:  His personal staff, his cabinet, and the generals who he is forced to rely on to fight to save the Union.

Vidal’s writing is sparklingly clear and bubbles with humor.

Through the multiplicity of viewpoints, Vidal provides nuanced picture of President Lincoln, the politician.

Lincoln: A Novel by Gore Vidal
Random House 1st ed. 1984. 657 p.
1984 bestseller #10; my grade: A+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

 

‘Rage of Angels’ could never end happily

Dark red rose drips blood on front dust jacket of “Rage of Angels” by Sidney Sheldon.
Blood drips from the rose.

In chapter one of Rage of Angels, after “interminable years of law school,” 24-year-old Jennifer Parker on her first day on the staff of the Manhattan District Attorney does something totally implausible for which she faces disbarment and even prison.

If you can get past that first chapter, the rest of Sidney Sheldon’s novel Rage of Angels is not bad. (Its shortcomings probably are less glaring in the 1983 TV miniseries.)

Jennifer is so in love with the idea of being a lawyer that she is persistent, hard-working, and willing to learn from her courtroom mistakes.

She’s not so good at learning from her bedroom mistakes.

Jennifer is infatuated first by lawyer Adam Warner, who keeps her from being disbarred.

She has a child by Adam, but she never tells him about Joshua for fear of ruining Adam’s presidential bid.

Later she becomes infatuated by Michael Moretti, a Mafia boss whose business operations are very badly hurt by Adam’s anti-corruption schemes.

Jennifer makes a mess of her personal life and refuses to take personal responsibility for the consequences.

Fortunately, Sheldon avoids the amateur writers’ mistake of pasting a happy ending on a story that couldn’t possibly have a happy ending.

Rage of Angels by Sidney Sheldon
W. Morrow. 1st ed. ©1980. 504 p.
1980 bestseller #3. My grade: C+

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

1876: America the scandalous

In his bestseller Burr, Gore Vidal swaddled the story of America’s babyhood into a tale about a law clerk for Aaron Burr’s who uses his insider knowledge to launch a journalistic career.

In his novel 1876, after living 40 years in Europe, Charlie returns to America accompanied by his widowed daughter, Emma, the Princess d’Agrigente.

Both father and daughter are broke.

Charlie hopes to get himself appointed minister to France by the next American president and find Emma a rich second husband. He’ll use his journalism skills to gain access to the right people.

In 1876 America celebrated her first Centennial, but the country’s mood was not happy.

The Civil War is over, but the country is still divided.

Ulysses S. Grant’s presidency is rocked by scandals.

Armies of disabled and unemployed soldiers beg on the streets.

Bribery is rampant.

A small coterie of ultra-rich, Astors and Vanderbilts, run the economy to their advantage but thousands, including Charlie, lost their life savings in the Panic of 1873.

Irish, Italians, and Chinese lured to the U.S. are “taking jobs away from our own people.”

“Half the people don’t even speak English.”

Native Americans rise in violent rebellion at Little Big Horn.

One presidential candidate refuses to disclose his tax returns.

And the man who wins the 1876 popular vote fails to get the presidency.

Vidal lays bare the character of the nation at the end of its first century in this entertaining tale enlivened with Charlie’s wry comments.

1876 by Gore Vidal
Random House, ©1976, 362 p.
1976 bestseller #6. My grade: A

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Convention Hinges on Database and Daughter-in-Law

Picture of speaker addressing political conventionIn Convention,  veteran Washington reporters Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II take readers behind the scenes to see what happens at a national political convention out of sight of TV cameras.

Unfortunately, what happens out of sight of the TV cameras isn’t much more interesting than what readers see on TV.

Charles B. Manchester, Secretary of the Treasury and heir-apparent to the President, appears to have his party’s nomination sewn up.

Then Manchester utters an off-the-cuff comment at a press conference, which turns everyone with a stake in building a new defense system against him.

Manchester’s honestly believes the new weapon is not needed. He won’t back down, even if it means losing the nomination.

What is interesting from a contemporary perspective is that the plot hinges on use of a secret computer stuffed with data about the convention delegates. That may sound tame, but when Convention was written 50 years ago most people had not heard the term computer and Big Data was still a baby.

Other than that, there’s not much new or interesting in the novel.

I don’t need to tell you that with a little nudge The Great American Electorate will rise up to support The Honest Man.

You’ve seen this plot before, and the characters are as cliché-choked as the plot.

Note to subscribers: I apologize for not posting this review Tuesday as promised.  Apparently I deleted it instead of scheduling it.

Convention
By Fletcher Knebel and Charles W. Bailey II
Harper & Row, 1964
343 pages
1964 bestseller #10
My grade: B
 
 

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni