A modern-day satire about a clown who runs for president—and might just win.
Bergheim’s utterly delightful debut novel centers its gentle satire on the frustration that many Americans feel for “those clowns in Washington.” Russell Greenbeaux, a successful software company entrepreneur, understands that frustration better than most, because he’s a member of the most misunderstood minority of all: he’s an actual clown, with a bright suit, green hair, the works. With the encouragement of his strong-willed mother, Ruth, Greenbeaux makes the unorthodox decision to run for president of the United States. At first, he keeps his goals very minimal: he’ll just “get in, get recognition for the clown cause, and get out without selling his soul.” It’s somewhat against his nature to seek the spotlight; he’d like to combat coulrophobia (the fear of clowns), but he acknowledges that although “[c]lowns were performers by their nature...most did not like to be the stars themselves.” His campaign quickly gets popular support and media attention; the networks even dub him “The Most Interesting Clown in the World.” He takes on a wise campaign manager in the person of Virgil Munsell, who faces double prejudices as an African-American clown, and gathers support from the Clown Underground. Soon, he’s facing an amusing array of primary opponents, including a Labour Party candidate calling for a parliamentary government in Washington and a Libertarian candidate who’s very territorial about his own property. Overall, this is well-done and surprisingly effective satire, with some memorably droll moments; for example, Bergheim informs readers that Greenbeaux refuses to stoop to negative stereotypes—no balloon animals, no juggling, no cramming into cars with lots of other clowns. The real strength of the story, however, is in its low-key human dimension. Greenbeaux’s mother is the most memorably touching character, but all the players here are people that readers will like and remember.
A winsome political tale about a candidate from a very particular minority.