Capable of Honor takes on the media

In Capable of Honor, Allen Drury picks up his story of Washington politics where A Shade of Difference ended.

Familiar faces from the cast of his two previous whopping political novels are here again, but this time Drury’s focus is the role of media in shaping political opinion.


Capable of Honor by Allen Drury

Doubleday, 1966. 531 pp. 1966 bestseller #4. My grade B+.


Capable of Honor uses all-type dust jacket, red type on black groundDrury’s wrath is turned on Walter Dobrius, nicknamed “Walter Wonderful” by the politicians who despise the columnist’s all-too-successful attempts to sway American voters and world opinion to right-thinking as Walter defines it.

Walter has picked California Governor Ted Jason as the peace candidate American needs as president.

Walter is willing to do whatever it takes to elect Ted and defeat the incumbent president who, with his secretary of state, has ordered American troops into Africa and Panama to protect American interests.

In pursuit of peace, Walter and Ted are happy to accept the support of certain well-organized and violent organizations at the party convention.

Unfortunately, they have no ability to control those supporters.

Drury presents complex characters caught in a bewildering situations.

Although he is vehement in his denunciation of the types of behaviors he considers un-American, Drury has sense enough to not let his rhetoric overwhelm his story.

The novel remains timely even after 50 years.

Where are novels that honor America’s military?

On this Memorial Day weekend, in honor of the American military I wanted to suggest a handful of good novels that reveal the courage and loyalty of America’s military without falling into sentimentality or glorifying war.

I was surprised to see how few novels I had to choose from.  Among the almost 700 novels that made the bestseller lists from 1900 to 1969, few are about America’s military and even fewer portray the military in a positive light.  Satirical send-ups like Rally Round the Flag, Boy don’t count, and it seems tactless to recommend novels such as Melville Godwin, U.S.A. as Memorial Day reading.

The best written, most respectful stories about the military seem to be written by people who experienced war on their home soil. Abroad, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Cruel Sea are tales by people who lived through war in their homelands. There’s nothing comparable on America’s bestseller lists from 1900-1969.

Judged by the number of novels it inspired, the most memorable of America’s wars is the War Between the States. Gone with the Wind, Action at Aquila, House Divided are just three of the novels about that conflict that made the bestseller lists. Their authors weren’t in the Civil War, but their families lived on its battlefields. As anyone who has lived in the South can testify, memories of those years are still vivid. The scabs of Civil War wounds haven’t sloughed off yet.

Instead of reading a book, go to a Memorial Day celebration. You’ll get closer to the real military men and women who deserve your gratitude there than in the pages of a second-rate novel.

Cold War thriller packs contemporary message

Nuclear Warning
Nuclear Warning

During a military exercise, American bombers armed with nuclear weapons streak off past the fail-safe point, headed for Moscow.

Watching blips on the air command’s radar screen blink are a congressman and a manufacturer whose equipment went into the complex system intended to make the nuclear deployment program accident-proof. All hope fervently that the radar reports are wrong.

Russians watching their radar screens are also convinced the problem is in the display: nothing has prepared them for an attack or an American accident.

The President calls Krushchev.

To prevent an unprovoked attack on Moscow, the President first tries to shoot down the US planes. When that does not work, he seizes the only option available to avert World War III.

With that material to work from and their taut prose, Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler could not help turning out a thriller.

Fail-Safe, however, is not just a few hours’ entertainment. It’s a reminder that in any complex, untested system, the occurrence of several statistically improbable errors can bring the whole system crashing down. Perhaps if that lesson had been learned from this novel, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico might not have come as such as shock to the American public.

Fail-Safe
Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler
McGraw-Hill, 1962
284 pages
1962 Bestseller #6
My grade: B+
Illustration Nuclear Warning 2 by Flaivoloka
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Thriller built on race relations and foreign policy

Gov. George Wallace attempts to block black students from entering University of Alabama
Wallace at University of Alabama

Allen Drury followed up his blockbuster novel Advise and Consent with A Shade of Difference, which builds on events and characters from that novel.

In the mid-twentieth century, “Terrible Terry,”a Western-educated leader of a British possession, is seeking UN help in getting immediate independent status for his African country.  Terry has the support of the Communist countries as well as the non-aligned and anti-American nations. More important, Terry has the support of the liberal segment of Americans always ready to denounce their nation.

When Terry dramatically escorts a black girl to integrate a white Southern school, he unleashes a violent clash of races and political opponents.

An experienced political reporter, Drury writes with an insider’s knowledge and a propagandist’s aim.

However, he’s also a capable story teller, who never forgets that readers come for the story. His omniscient character descriptions are borne out by the words and actions of those characters.

The most startling aspect of A Shade of Difference is how contemporary the story feels. Representative Cullee Hamilton, caught in the conflict between the races and his own political ambitions is a fictional sixties Barack Obama.

Whatever your political leanings, you will find intrigue and entertainment in the pages of this political thriller.

A Shade of Difference
Allen Drury
Doubleday, 1962
603 pages
1962 bestseller #3
My grade:B+
 
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Cimarron Sings Praises of Frontier Women

In her foreword, Edna Ferber says that only the “fantastic and improbable” events related in Cimarron are true. Perhaps that historical sense is what propelled Cimarron to the top of the charts in 1930.

The novel is about Sabra Cravat. Her husband, a lawyer, newspaperman, and adventurer, brings her and their young son, Cimarron, west to Oklahoma just after the 1889 run that opened the land to settlers.

Sabra soon learns her flambuoyant husband is already well-known for his oratory and his shooting. Yancey champions the Indian’s plight and teaches Cim to be pro-Indian, too.

Yancey periodically disappears for days, weeks, then years at a time.

Sabra keeps the newspaper going, makes it prosper, crusades for morality, education, and culture. Eventually she becomes US Senator.

When oil is found in Oklahoma, Yancey — always one to be where the action is — comes home again in time to die as dramatically as he lived.

Ferber makes the point that men went west for adventure. Frontier women were “the real hewers of wood and drawers of water,”  the ones who made life possible.

The plot and characters of Cimarron are forgettable, but they are just interesting enough to make the history turn-of-the-century Oklahoma easy reading.

Cimarron
By Edna Ferber
Doubleday, Doran 1930
388 pages
#1 on 1930 bestseller list
My grade: B

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Jubilee Trail Celebrates Women’s Strength

Garnet Cameron, newly graduated from a select New York finishing school in 1844, promptly falls head over heals for a Harvard drop-out turned prairie trader. Oliver Hale appeals to a sense of adventure Garnet never knew she had.

They marry and set off  for California, planning to return to New York the following year.

In New Orleans, Garnet engineers the escape of  a dance hall singer accused of murder who  turns up again on the wagon train west over the Jubilee Trail. Garnet and Florinda become best friends.

Once in California, Garnet has to deal with Oliver’s controlling elder brother who had planned a  politically expedient marriage for Oliver. Garnet’s hero-husband turns wimp in his brother’s shadow.

When Oliver is killed, Garnet moves in with Florinda, both working as barmaids in Los Angeles. They live through earthquakes, the US annexation of California,  Charles Hale’s attempt to abduct his late brother’s infant son, and the discovery of gold at Sutter’s Mill.

Garnet looks for abiding love that Florinda denies exists, yet they remain fiercely loyal to each other. Both  face whatever life dishes out, tidy up, and get ready for the next challenge. Through this unlikely pair, novelist Gwen Bristow makes Jubilee Trail a  celebration of women.

The Jubilee Trail
Gwen Bristow
Thomas T. Crowell, 1950
564 pages
1950 bestseller # 8
My grade B-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni