January 10, 2008

BOOKS: The Race, Richard North Patterson (2007)

A left-wing fantasy about a Republican primary campaign; it's all insanely implausible, but there is some fun to be had along the way.

Why "fantasy"? Well, the novel's hero, Senator Corey Grace, is one of those Republicans who exist only in this type of novel. He's a handsome, charismatic war hero; he's conservative, but reasonable, not filled with hate, and willing to listen his opponents; he's disturbed about the ever-increasing influence of religion on his party (and willing to say so). In a short, he'd be every Democrat's favorite Republican, but he'd never be a serious Presidential candidate as a Republican.

He's running against an almost equally charismatic senator, Rob Marotta, who is reluctantly allowing his advisors to pull him to the extreme right in order to win primaries; that's a necessary step because the third candidate in the race is evangelical preacher Bob Christy, whose campaign is built on hostility to abortion and gay rights. These three claw their way to a good old-fashioned (and these days, wildly implausible) brokered convention.

The Race is filled with one implausible character and plot twist after another. There's Corey's sexy African-American Oscar-winning actress girlfriend, a closeted vice-presidential wannabe, a viciously nasty South Carolina primary campaign (OK, maybe that one's not so implausible), characters haunted by assorted youthful tragedies -- it almost begins to play as a parody of a political novel.

But Patterson writes reasonably well, and his characters are a bit more fully dimensional than in most novels of this type. And as loopy at the plot is, it's well-constructed and zips along in lively fashion. It can't be taken seriously as a novel about American politics as it actually exists, but as a visit to a sort of Bizarro America, it's surprisingly entertaining.

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