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SCORCHED EARTH by Stuart Stevens


by Stuart Stevens

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-87113-582-5
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

In his flip, unfunny first novel, travel writer Stevens (Malaria Dreams, 1989, etc.) offers the familiar view of American political campaigning as mud-wrestling. Two brothers are slugging it out in the sweltering late- October heat of the Deep South with six days left to the election. Congressman Luke Bonney is running for the US Senate; his brother, Matt, is a top Washington consultant and adviser to Luke's rival, Governor Solomon Jawinski. The brothers belong to their unnamed home state's leading political family. Their father, Powell Bonney, was a segregationist governor in the '60s who took a Wallace-like stand against school integration; Luke has never forgiven him for his mysterious decision to quit after his first term, and the two have not spoken in years. There are no issues in the present race, just the personalities of Luke (an intense, 37-year-old go-getter) and the much older Jawinski (a ``Polish-Jewish redneck''); the latter, a lovable buffoon regrouping after a messy divorce, is the more vulnerable to negative TV ads until Jawinski's pollster finds three black male prostitutes who allege they have had sex with Luke (a charge Stevens has borrowed from the 1983 Mississippi gubernatorial race). Luke decides he should announce he's been sleeping with Matt's wife, Lisa (also a congressperson): ``It's counter-punch time or I'm belly up.'' It's a silly idea—though no sillier than Luke's media adviser shooting himself to distract attention from Jawinski's superior debate performance—and, typically, it goes nowhere; Stevens often toys with developments, then walks away from them. Similarly, a more serious story about Washington marriages pops up occasionally, only to be displaced by shenanigans. Stevens, himself a political consultant, knows the territory but doesn't have the wit or inventiveness to make it memorable in fiction.