Washington, 2000–2001: Beltway socialites fiddle while D.C. burns in Frank’s third satiric soufflé.
By the spring of 2000, everyone’s sick of Bill Clinton because everyone’s heard every possible joke about semen-stained dresses. Nonpareil hostess Trudy Hopedale (née Weinstein, as her catty, delusional mother-in-law keeps reminding her and everyone else in earshot) is more than ready for a change, even if that involves transferring her decorous carnal interests from her husband Roger, a Foreign Service veteran with a promising future behind him, to wheezing Midwestern Republican Senator Ricardo Willingham. Trudy’s sedate husband has turned from soft-hitting analyses of the paradox of American hegemony to a softcore novel, Desks of Power, which embarrasses everyone who reads it and may end up embarrassing more highly placed politicians as well. Though he isn’t ready to respond to rapacious Washington Post reporter Jennifer Pouch’s forthright pass, Trudy’s dear, dear friend and co-narrator Donald Frizzé is ready for a change of his own—perhaps a switch from his current project, a biography of Garret Augustus Hobart, William McKinley’s vice president, to a volume on some equally pivotal vice president. Change comes to town as the Clintons depart and the Bushes arrive. But as the country lurches toward war with “some international foe (I didn’t quite get the foe’s name),” these genteel nincompoops chatter only of shark attacks, the sleazy congressman whose intern has vanished and their own endlessly fascinating sexual adventures and social snubs. The myopia of “ordinary people like me who find themselves in the vortex of history and destiny” is a wonderfully promising subject, but these self-perpetuating aristocrats, who can rarely muster enough sincerity even to equivocate, are such easy targets that the satire comes off as alternately too broad and just plain irrelevant.
Even the zingers have less zing than in Frank’s first two send-ups (Bad Publicity, 2004, etc.) in this hit-and-miss snapshot of the way we live now.