Speak Now

I’ve always been fascinated by politics and history; the two go hand-in-hand, and you really cannot understand one without understanding the other. (Economics are also a lot more important than is ever given credit in most histories–wars and exploration and colonization was, inevitably, always about markets and trade and thus money) I’ve maintained for years that history should be taught as the advancement of individual rights–the ups and downs of individual freedoms, rather than dates and battles and Kings and Queens and Emperors–and that study of individual rights also needs to examine prejudices and bigotry and zealotry, and how those three factors have poisoned civilization and humanity throughout much of its history. I also feel that, while the study of wars are important for their impact, the fact that the impact these wars had on the citizens of the country (countries) being invaded was also important. Putting humanity in the study of human history would not only make it more interesting, but would also further the understanding that should come with the study.

I tend to avoid books about politics, or political thrillers–the news provides enough stranger than fiction moments every day–and as a general rule, fictional films about politics rarely interest me, either. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years, thinking a fictional show about our government couldn’t be interesting enough for us to get vested in; we were clearly wrong (but I still refuse to watch The American President.) Fletcher Knebel, a long forgotten writer of the mid-twentieth century, wrote political thrillers, and while I was aware of him when I was young, I never read any of his books; why read about fictional politics when actual history is available to read and study? But a few years ago, I read an article about one of his books, recently brought back into print, and intrigued me enough to want to read it.

It’s premise: what if a sitting American President begins to slowly lose his mind and grip on reality?

And I am sure you can imagine why that premise was intriguing.

Jim MacVeagh’s burst of laughter came so unexpectedly, his hand jiggled the stem of the wineglass, and a splash of champagne spotted the linen tablecloth. Sidney Karper, the Secretary of Defense, sitting on his right, grinned in shared appreciation and shook his head.

“Unbeatable, isn’t he, Senator? He just won’t be topped.”

“Nobody can touch him when he’s determined,” agreed MacVeagh. He wiped at his eye with a corner of his napkin and turned back toward the center of the long head table, cluttered with late debris of ashes and crumpled menus amid the sparkle of glassware.

The speaker, President Mark Hollenbach, was mock-solemn again after flashing a responsive smile for the spray of laughter which greeted his first sally. His was the honor chore of the night–the brief reply to the toast to the President of the United States which signaled the closing of another annual Gridiron dinner. The news correspondents had lampooned the Hollenbach administration and its foes in a series of musical skits, some sharp as stilettos but one belabored in its buffoonery, while the Marine Band orchestra in shining scarlet coats. played for the 550 diners.

I finally read this book while I was on vacation over Thanksgiving week, and found myself enjoying it tremendously. It’s a thriller, of course, and the main character is junior Iowa senator Jim MacVeagh. Jim’s a good guy, without too much ambition, with a wife he loves and a tween daughter he adores; he also is having an affair with the chair of the DNC’s secretary–not really a smart thing to do, but we see this self-destructive behavior from politicians all the time (although the idea that adultery is disqualifying for higher office has long since been shown up as a lie). After the Gridiron Club dinner, Jim is invited by the president to join him for a talk at Camp David–and it is there the story kicks into gear. Enormously popular President Mark Hollenbach has decided to dump his vice-president for the upcoming campaign–he’s been tainted with a whiff of scandal regarding a building project a campaign donor was awarded–and the President is interested in having Jim join him on the campaign trail.

Naturally, this is very exciting for Jim, awakening ambitions he wasn’t aware he’d even had, and realizing that, if selected, this would make him the front runner for the top of the ticket in four years–which of course is very exciting for any politician, particularly a young one–but as the conversation continues, Jim begins to become concerned, as some of the things the President wants to do in his second term are not only unconstitutional but borderline insane–for one example, he wants to wire tap every American’s phone, so as better to track and prevent crime, espionage, and foreign agents–and he also displays paranoiac tendencies. As Jim gets closer to the President and one step closer to being on the ticket, more and more evidence of the president’s instability is revealed to him….and he has to. ask himself–party or country? Patriotism or partisanship?

This is a terrific read, and certainly one any American today could identify with and get caught up in the story.

I’m now curious to read other works of Knebel’s, and then of course, Allen Drury’s terrific series of novels about Washington, beginning with Advise and Consent.

I do remember reading an Arthur Hailey novel about politics–yes, government was one of the industries he turned his research and writing to–called In High Places. (I read this during my Arthur Hailey phase; I learned alot from his books. I read The Moneychangers when I worked at a bank; he was spot on about day to day operations on the floor. I reread Airport when I worked at an airport; again, pretty spot on, despite the decades of changes to the industry since he researched and wrote the book.) And The Coyotes of Carthage, which I read earlier this year, was one of the best books I’ve read about rural politics.

I think you might enjoy Night of Camp David. I certainly did.

Lover

And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.

No thank you.

I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.

So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.

Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?

I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)

All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.

There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Way I Loved You

I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.

Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.

I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.

I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.

I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.

The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.

Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.

Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.

I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.