An unexciting midwestern version of All the King’s Men follows a young man’s struggle to uncover (and conceal) the shady truths about his dead father.
Cleveland has its fair share of shady grafters in City Hall—and Joe Way should know. His father, Joseph Sr. is the mayor, and Joe Jr. is helping Dad fight off challenger Lester Ratcovic in one of the sleaziest municipal campaigns since Richard Daley went on to his great reward. A onetime college football star who got his start in politics by setting up a new Browns franchise in Cleveland, Joe Jr. is Assistant DA and heir presumptive to the Way dynasty. He is also a self-righteous prig keenly sensitive to the failings of others and not above playing dirty when it suits his purposes. When a teenaged girl comes to him with a story of how she was sexually harassed by Ratcovic, Joe urges her to go public with her tale—and to conceal the fact that they ever met. The uproar that ensues kills Ratcovic’s campaign and erupts into full-blown scandal when the girl is found beaten to death. Does Joe have any regrets? Not at first—until he discovers that his father has been conducting a longtime affair behind his mother’s back. As if that weren’t shock enough, Joe’s father dies the very day after Joe catches him in flagrante delicto. Joe narrates his story into a tape recorder as he desperately rehearses the eulogy he’ll have to deliver at the funeral. As he struggles to make sense of his father’s life, he is helped by an older brother who has recently come out of the closet and an ex-girlfriend who works for a left-wing paper that was investigating Joe’s father. Which is better, ignorance or disillusion?
A rambling and lackluster second effort by Shepherd (Henry’s List of Wrongs, 2002), fleshed out with predictable situations and two-dimensional characters: feels flat and formulaic.