New Yorker senior editor Frank’s first novel is the faux memoir of an ambitious, monumentally obtuse Washington columnist whose “chief flaw is an inability to recognize [his] other flaws.”
Urged by the elder George Bush that somebody who’s known all those people and called all those shots ought to write it all down, Brandon Sladder begins with his days on his college newspaper and as reporter and columnist for the Buffalo Vindicator. After getting his father fired from his insurance agency by nosing around in his confidential records, Brandon blackmails his editor into launching him as a D.C. insider, using strategic seductions, betrayals, and suckings-up to continue his meteoric rise. In an amusing, though obvious, parody of every self-aggrandizing journalistic memoir ever written, Brandon sanctimoniously defends his troglodyte political views, reverentially quotes his sententious descriptions of pols from Jack Kennedy to Bill Clinton, and drops enough names, actual and fictional, to fill the index Frank helpfully supplies. But in Washington the political is personal, as Brandon demonstrates by flirting with Georgetown hostess Madeleine Whitbridge, his entrée to Beltway society; seducing bosomy Esther Goldenstein, daughter of his editor at New Terrain; and romancing patrician Gretchen Furlong, the horsey socialite who becomes his first wife. Meantime, half an inch below the surface, Brandon’s darkening friendship with Bob Hudnut, the future congressperson he first met in the hall outside a hooker’s apartment, serves as a reminder that his fall will be swift, deserved, and eminently unsurprising. If the tale is familiar, however, Frank shows a fine ear for tosh: “I cannot say that I agreed with most of what I heard from my father; nor, in any case, do I remember very much. But growing up as his son undoubtedly helped me to become the person I am.”
A guilty pleasure for readers who want reassurance that they’re smarter, nicer, and more honest than the press.