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Pub Date: Feb. 8th, 1979
Publisher: Doubleday

From the journalist author of Adlai Stevenson of Illinois and other non-fiction: a decent but terribly predictable and slightly implausible political novel meant to excoriate the twin evils of modern-day campaigning--TV and polls. Senator James T. Heller of Illinois is in trouble as his re-election campaign gets underway; somehow the crowds just aren't responding and his vast lead in the polls is slipping. So, though top aide Joe Mackey (an old Kennedy worshipper) wants Heller to shift the bland campaign toward real issues, Heller instead brings in TV magician-consultant Richard Cutler--who soon is: shooting glossy TV commercials (""It's natural, real; it's refreshing, it's image""); scheduling Heller into hectic air-travel mini-appearances; and ""using"" issues to create media events (like Heller greeting newly arrived Soviet refugees or communing with urban rioters). But Cutler goes even further (and here's the implausible part): to prevent Heller's opponent from getting the funds needed for TV air time, Cutler bribes a prominent pollster ($200,000) to issue phony poll data that shows Heller way ahead, thus deflating the opponent's fundraising. (Hardly likely behavior for an egomaniac TV whiz.) And eventually, of course, high-principled Mackey will get wind of this corruption--Heller himself is a semi-knowing accomplice in the bribe--and there'll be coverups, un-coverups, and moral dilemmas for one and all. A rather jerry-rigged scenario, then, with loud proclamations of the anti-TV message at every possible juncture. And Martin's attempts at textured novelizing--awkward injections of the characters' backgrounds, a clichf‚d affair with a TV newswoman for insufferably noble Mackey--don't really soften the placard effect. Still, much of the actual campaign detail is convincing, and the satire of TV-iris is often on-target (Cutler says, thoughtfully, ""I find you can't quite get the message across in thirty seconds on a complicated issue""); so politically-oriented readers may find some intriguing bits and pieces here, if they don't mind a novel that's really a longwinded, old-fashioned editorial.