From the veteran political commentator and espionage novelist, a shallow tale of the unmasking of a bigamous presidential contender.
In the fall of 1969, at the University of North Dakota, Reuben Castle is a BMOC, editor of the student newspaper and a leading protester against the Vietnam war. He and his girlfriend, the French-Canadian Henri(etta) Leborcier, lose their virginity in a duck blind. When Henri discovers she is pregnant, she takes Reuben to her hometown of Letellier, across the border, where they are married in secret by her old Catholic priest. Henri then leaves to have the baby in France, where her father lives, intending to return after the birth; she is shocked when Reuben ditches her, breaking off contact. The story skips around over the next 22 years. At his father’s insistence, Reuben is drafted to Vietnam, where he cannily avoids combat assignments; he also avoids his father’s funeral, though the military has returned him stateside. Reuben, clearly, is a heel. In time he becomes a rising political star, with an eye-catching marriage to a former Miss America and an effortless entry into the U.S. Senate. He is taken up by prescient kingmaker Harold Kaltenbach, shopping around for a viable Democrat to run for the White House in ’92; he does not see Reuben’s womanizing as a problem. You may be reminded here of another womanizing liberal Democrat getting set to run in ’91, but this is no Primary Colors. His characters are stick figures, and Reuben’s attempt to suppress evidence of his first marriage lacks suspense; a prologue has tipped us off to his use of arson. The last chance for drama disappears when Reuben’s son Justin, now a student at Notre Dame and hot on his father’s trail, refuses to confront him in person.
The entertaining machinations of the Blackford Oates series (Last Call for Blackford Oates, 2005, etc.) are missing from this lackluster effort.