Isaac Sidel, commissioner of police turned New York City mayor, adds a new title to his résumé: vice president-elect of the United States.
Added to the Democratic ticket in 1988 to juice the appeal of J. Michael Storm, a baseball czar with feet of clay (Citizen Sidel, 1999), Isaac swiftly becomes the main story. Crowds and Republicans adore him, ignoring the presidential candidate who took 47 states. Even J. Michael’s 12-year-old daughter, Marianna, takes up a staunch position at “Uncle Isaac’s” side, prompting fearful echoes of Lolita. Amid all the hoopla, however, deeper currents swirl. A Korean War vet aiming at Isaac during a trip to San Antonio shoots his Secret Service bodyguard instead. Isaac finds David Pearl, the banker who was the longtime silent partner to Isaac’s glover father, holed up in Manhattan’s Ansonia Hotel brewing heaven knows what dastardly schemes. Isaac falls hard for David’s inamorata, Inez, nee Trudy Winckleman, but knows their relationship can’t possibly end well. Instead of readying himself for the vice presidency, the Big Man prefers to play out his last days as the mayoral savior of the five boroughs. All around him, meanwhile, career politicians, campaign consultants, political strategists, psychiatrists and astrologers do what they do best: discern conspiracies, take fright and counter them with their own megalomaniac fantasies. All of this uproar in the national hall of mirrors, in which friends are really enemies and enemies are really nuts, perfectly suits Charyn’s tropism for antic mythologizing. The new threats arriving on every page are often extended, inflated and dispatched in time for the next paragraph break.
The result is a political cocktail almost as fizzy and inventive as The Onion or The Wall Street Journal in which every development is dark, urgent and apocalyptic, and none of it matters a bit.