THE COMMON TOUCH by T. A. Keenleyside


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Canadian political scientist and diplomat Keenleyside turns didactic novelist for the saga of Jim Rutherford, Canadian consular official posted to Bukara (imaginary ""composite of several developing countries in Southeast Asia""). Earnest, dedicated Rutherford wants nothing more than to be his brother's keeper. Quickly he runs afoul of other would-be keepers of the country: the US's piggish military men, Bukara's corrupt puppet leaders, Canada's egoistic aid officials and self-important, incompetent ambassador. These author-proclaimed ""types"" (they never do become real people) inhabit a world of street demonstrations, assassinations, terrorist murders, embassy fire bombings, and endless cocktail parties. It is also a world of clichÉs in which men with ""flintlike eyes"" actually ""bemoan the facts"" and ""wrestle with problems"" while vacuous wives experience ""emotional turmoil."" For such a place, overworked and long-suffering hero Rutherford is far too sensitive. You can tell because he (1) can't forgive his neglected wife her passing affair and (2) not once but twice gives a coin to a beggar. In the end, Jim accomplishes a lot: he tells off the visiting Canadian Prime Minister at a cocktail party. After one such futile display of outrage a Bukaran friend tells Rutherford: ""At least you tried. That's the main thing."" But of course it's not. In retreading the slick good-guy vs. bad-guy theory of politics, Keenleyside gets comforting liberal mileage from a thoroughly tiresome novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 2nd, 1977
Publisher: Doubleday