Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book Review: "O: A Presidential Novel"

What self-respecting political junkie can resist the much-hyped release this week of O: A Presidential Novel (Simon & Schuster, 2011)? The anonymity of its author (with its associated frantic speculation), coupled with the timeliness of its subject matter, make it a must-read for those of us who enjoy following the ins and outs of campaign politics just as closely as others do football (is there a game today?).

The novel is set during the 2012 campaign, which finds President O up against squeaky-clean Republican Tom Morrison, otherwise known as "Terrific Tom." Most of the book is focused on what casual readers will probably see as political inside baseball: ad buys; debate prep; internal campaign dynamics; relations between campaign staff, journalists, and donors - if we can plausibly guess one thing about the author, it's that he (or perhaps she, though after reading the book I doubt it) has been involved or associated with a national campaign in a serious way.

While O the book at times tries to get inside O the man's head, there are no meaningful insights here; in fact, the quasi-psychoanalysis of O seems more like a sort of caricature by a political rival than a serious look into the president's character and mindset. While some of the other characters are much better written and certainly add more to the story, the daily doings of O's campaign manager Cal Regan, young reporter Maddy Cohan (shades of House of Cards?), even Republican candidate Morrison and the somewhat mild villain of the piece--a big donor with a leak to peddle--simply can't carry forward a book that doesn't have a particularly exciting story to tell.

There's certainly some potential, but unfortunately the entire Republican nominating process is condensed into a few paragraphs (with a brief but unsatisfactory cameo by "The Barracuda"), and the main plot-line is far too inside-the-Beltway (not to mention just plain uninteresting) to appeal to a general audience (personally, I happened to enjoy it, but hey, I look forward to Mike Allen's "Playbook" every morning). The writing seemed just a bit strained to me, as if the author weren't used to composing dialogue and pacing a story.

I suspect we'll probably know soon enough who wrote it, if folks are inspired enough to track the author down and get him to confess. For now, if you're looking for a fast read with lots of political details, or if you're out to solve this season's major authorship mystery, O's the book for you.

No comments: