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2012 is presidential election year in the U.S.
,
and political junkies have been entertained all
winter by the Republican primaries. Now just in
time for the finale, David Frum, the Canadian-
American who once wrote speeches for President
George W. Bush, has released Patriots, a darkly
comic satirical novel filled with juicy authentic
details about how Washington really works.
Once the ultimate Republican insider, Frum has
become estranged from his party since the rise of
the Tea Party. After publicly disagreeing with the outrage
of the far right regarding President Obama’s health-care
reform plans, David was summarily fired from his job at a
prestigious conservative think tank. MACLEAN’S Magazine
describes his position as being “in genteel exile” from
Republican power circles. After the behind-the-scenes
details about sex scandals, blackmail, ruthless lobby-
ists, corrupt cable news and blow-hard talk radio hosts
described in Patriots, it’s unlikely that David Frum has made
any new Republican friends. For the reader, the fun is in
identifying the thinly disguised players.
It’s a chaotic situation in Washington. The first African-
American president has just lost re-election. His successor
is a retired military man, in a wheelchair, who is not only
trying to deal with ongoing recession, but also with military
reversals in the drug cartel war in Mexico. (Yes, Mexico!
It’s fiction.) Even before the inauguration, General George
Pulaski is being openly challenged by radical ideologues
from his own party. He committed the crime of suggesting
a rise in taxes to cover the war effort and budget shortfalls.
Our narrator and naive guide through this transitional
period and beyond is the aimless 28-year-old mustard heir
Walter Schotzke, so far, a spectacular loser. This may have
been the result of the early tragic loss of his parents – his
father, an American hero in the field, and his movie star
mother in a plane crash. Our Walter has managed to be
thrown out of some of the world’s best boarding schools,
David Frum
William Morris Endeavor, L.L.C, 481 pages
Willa McLean
is a
freelance writer who
lives in Kitchener.
Patriots: A Novel
and gone on to be fired from every job he
attempted. It was when he was turned down by
the Peace Corps that his tough grandmother,
who controlled his inheritance, gave Walter an
ultimatum. He was to move to Washington to
work at the Senate office of her friend, or have his
trust fund cut off. Valerie, his beautiful conniving
girlfriend was his grandmother’s co-conspirator.
The first thing Valerie instigated when they
arrived in Washington was the study of daily
newspapers. Even so, Walter had such an inauspicious start
at the Senator’s office, with his total political ignorance,
that he was sent to boot camp at a party think tank. This
interlude gives Frum a chance to vent his true opinion
about ‘Think Tank’ experts.
Walter is a wonderful, irreverent guide as we join him at
his first White House appointment (slightly awestruck)
and backstage at the shamelessly partisan Patriot Cable
News studio, where he encountered the sexy, scary talking
heads and seriously tangled with their ruthless boss. He
and Valerie (a party planner) attended lavish receptions
at the mansions of wealthy donors. At the other end of
the social scale were furtive assignments in seedy places
with creepy characters from the dark side of politics. In all
situations, Walter’s manner is agreeable and polite, but his
aside observations are subversive, X-rated and funny. It’s
fascinating to watch his growth, as he gets more involved
and feels a purpose in life. Schotzke knows that he’s being
manipulated, but he reacts with calm detachment…even in
the astounding but satisfying conclusion.
In a column in the National Post, Frum discussed why he
chose to go the e-reader route to publishing, rather than
the brick-and-mortar publishing houses. A conventional
publisher would have eliminated the typos and glitches in
Patriots, but a ruthless editor might very well have taken
the red pencil to the excessive descriptions of people,
fashions and decor. Personally, I enjoyed the colourful
excess, even the menu minutiae.
Book
review