Email this review


What ever happened to the comic political novel? Well, it's alive and well in Oat Hill, Texas--at least through the first half or so of this episodic, drily folksy little tale: the unique, brief political career of Twain-ish narrator Harold Smith, editor/owner of the Oat Hill Gazette. Harold starts out with a few non-political anecdotes about little Oat Hill--about a local bank-robbery (the robbers disarmed the populace with marijuana smoke), about the hapless doings of a Yankee banker. Then he sneakily moseys around to his successes as a low-key, clever muckraker: his columns nail Congressman Plunkett on nepotism. And before you know it Harold himself is being urged to run against Plunkett's successor Cong. Roger Wright--who's a suspiciously good pal of South Korea. So what sort of campaign does Harold run? A dirty one--or so it seems. To raise money, he cynically writes ""special editorials"" (pro-Big Business), which he prints up in ""private editions"" of the Gazette (25 copies only) and mails off to industrial leaders. He proposes a two-term limit for Congressmen--and flummoxes wishy-washy opponent Roger by demanding that he take a stand on this issue. (""I ended each column with: 'Made up your mind yet, Roger?'"") He hires hecklers to set him up with neat one-liners. He gets the Church vote by tastefully (cynically) attending two services every Sunday. And Roger is soon a goner--after his Teleprompter TV-speech is sabotaged (not by Harold) and after Harold pulls out ""My Final, Reprehensible Shot"": a canny media blitz re Roger's S. Korean connection. All this is fine, wry, understated fun--as Harold puts every Nixonian rotten-trick to his own, strangely decent use. Then, however, once elected, Harold goes to Washington and merely parades his incorruptibility: refusing bribes, returning the campaign fund, idealistically proposing that two-term limit bill, blithely defying every bit of low-down D.C. etiquette. So the last part of the book becomes predictable, obvious, and even a little smug. Overall, however: a superior grab-bag of down-home observations and anecdotes--highly sly and no less savvy than Satire or Buchwald.

Pub Date: April 30th, 1982
Publisher: Madrona Publishers