Miller (Guilty or Innocent, 2011, etc.) jumps into the 2020 presidential race with a new and unusual fictional candidate.
A man named Harold, who admits to being “a screwball in a novel,” introduces himself as a 73-year-old man who’s obsessed with the idea of running for president in the next election. As the story opens, it’s “November 9, 2016. Trump won.” Although Harold realizes that he himself is “a nobody,” he figures that Trump’s victory means that he could also be “a valid candidate.” Before plunging into his policies, Harold warns readers that he’s the creation of an author who “may have some…type of aberration, himself.” One of Harold’s signature issues is the plight of the homeless. He theorizes that the answer to that problem and other “issues of concern to all of us” lies in better communication among the citizenry of the United States. To that end, Harold is an advocate of free speech “with absolutely no reservation or qualification.” If what you say or write doesn’t result in physical harm, it’s OK, he says. Even social media postings that threaten violence should be allowed, he asserts, because then we “have a chance to do something about it.” He also says that although he doesn’t agree with football players who take a knee in protest, he fully supports “their right to do so.” He’s for abortion rights and also favors state right-to-die laws. His solution to the immigration problem? Allow other countries to apply for U.S. statehood.
Miller’s character is a self-deprecating gadfly who, as a presidential contender, seems designed to alternatingly please and offend readers—and in this, he’ll likely succeed. The author delivers Harold’s platform in uncomplicated prose that’s sometimes humorous. However, it also frequently slides into stream-of-consciousness rambling, which obscures his message: “So, you can read on if you wish….But you should realize that I don’t really make much sense realistically…. And further, if you took this seriously and wanted to nominate me for president, I would refuse point blank.” The candidate proposes a judicial system based on rehabilitation, to effect “a change in the lives and motivations of the criminal.” Release from prison shouldn’t be based upon time served, he says, but rather on the prisoner’s “working out the problem and changing.” At the same time, he believes that victims of crimes resulting in serious bodily injury should be able to get revenge for closure. In this way, his political positions defy classification. One minute he appears to be compassionate and concerned about social problems; the next, he seems infuriatingly obtuse. He opposes #MeToo, for instance, because he believes that it could lead to “the end of the right of [the] accused to defend himself.” He dismisses the idea of woman being “bothered in her mind all her life because a man touched her.” The victim, he asserts, “should learn to accept the innate terribleness of life.”
A quick, sometimes-frustrating read that may inspire in-depth conversation but that’s compromised by rambling verbosity.