Review: Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

Primary Colors: A Novel of PoliticsPrimary Colors: A Novel of Politics by Anonymous
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Until the halfway point, this was a 4.5 star book. I’d just seen the movie of the same name recently so I was interested in reading the book to compare the two. I was also hoping the book would provide more insight into some of the characters’ decisions.

I was impressed by how faithfully the movie recreated scenes from the book; this might just be one of the best book-to-film adaptations I’d ever seen, which is even more impressive when you consider the context in which it was created; the mid-to-late 90s were rife with a lot of failed adaptations.

It’s rather fun to try and guess which characters are based on real people (and there’s a handy list for you to check your work). And the characters here are strong and interesting . . . at least at first. But where things go wrong is, perhaps not coincidentally, where the book and the movie versions diverge. The movie paces the book almost perfectly until the middle point, then skips over a lot of plot to leapfrog right to the big finale. Frankly, this was a good idea.

The book started to lose me around the time the main character had an affair with Susan (based on Hillary Clinton) and other . . . I guess you’d call it plot wandering? The plot and characters that was so taut and relentlessly paced seems to derail as Henry’s angst overwhelms any further direction. Unfortunately, it’s not something that resolves quickly enough and so the closing act drags until the big finish.

There’s also this weird thing about how faithfully the characters resemble the people they are based on and how some of the events very closely resemble things that really happened (such as the Cashmere McCloud/Gennifer Flowers scandal) but other ones are wildly fanciful (I don’t recall anyone in the primary dropping out due to a heart attack, then having his replacement drop out due to a drug scandal).

On the one hand, you recognize that a novel can be fantasy and that the real story of the 1992 presidential campaign didn’t have quite as many fun twists and turns. On the other hand, when you mix reality with fantasy so thoroughly, it creates a distance between the text and the reader, because now I’m not sure what to do with any of this material. I can’t dismiss everything, because some stuff is based on truth. But I can’t believe everything, because some of it is so obviously made up. It started out fun, at first, but eventually it just felt like homework.

So we’re left with a decidedly odd review at the end. On the strength of the characters, their dialogue, their interaction, and their sheer presence on the page, we come to 4.5 stars, maybe even 5 stars. Which is a really good thing, because this novel is almost entirely in dialogue.

On the other hand, the weirdness of some of the plot aspects and the sagging third act meant that after a roaring start, I found myself procrastinating on finishing the book, which means even with such wonderful characterization, the love/hate split I felt leaves me with a respectable, though not amazing, rating of three stars.

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Rise Of The Third Party?

When I first became interested in politics as a young man, one of the things that bothered me most about our political system was the complete dominance of the two parties. You were either a Republican or you were a Democrat. Sure, you could cast your vote for some other party, assuming there was a suitable candidate. But a vote cast for the Green Party or the Libertarian Party was largely symbolic. Even the most successful party in recent history – the Reform Party – managed a mere 8% of the popular vote in the 1996 presidential election. They did manage to elect a governor, though, so . . . that’s good, I guess.

But even though my youthful enthusiasm for a multi-party political system has waned, I’ve long wondered if I might see a new third party emerge within my lifetime. It’s not without historical precedent. Parties come and go, wax and wane. We don’t have a Whig Party these days. We don’t have a Federalist Party.  The Democratic-Republican Party, oddly enough, split into what eventually became the modern Democratic and Republican Parties (via a detour through Whig Town for the Republicans).

My secret dream has always been that the Green Party would eventually rise up and gain some real teeth in the political process; a longshot, I know, but when you’re an early political idealist, you think just about anything is possible. I’m still holding out for that future, in case anyone is thinking about accusing me of giving up on my dreams.

Laugh if you must.

What I didn’t predict was that our rising third party would be hewn from the fragments of the schismatic and possibly irreparably broken Republican Party:

For nearly 150 years, there was something in America called the Republican Party. It was far from perfect. It often faltered. It made mistakes. But it was predictable; when it was in power, you knew, for the most part, what you were getting.

Cut to now and things look mighty different. The Republican Party today is, as Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein put it, “an insurgent outlier in American politics … ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.” But, to borrow the title of Mann and Ornstein’s recent book, it’s even worse than it looks. There’s the Tea Party and then there’s a rump of spineless moderates. The GOP, quite simply, has been split in two.

So, I guess my long-held wish for a third party may be on the verge of fruition. With House Majority Leader Eric Cantor losing to the Tea Party candidate Eric Brat, it seems like a permanent split between the mainstream Republicans and the Tea Parties might well be here. Or maybe not; it’s a little too early in the primary season to say how this will all shake down.

Maybe Cantor’s defeat is an outlier. Maybe not. Regardless, it’s going to be interesting to observe.