A Review of the Epic Comic Novel, Game Change:
The novel Game Change by humorists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, now out in paperback and on many end-of-year "Best of" lists, is a hilarious romp through the farcical political landscape of a presidential election in a nation called "the United States," one that's like ours except wackier. The race to nomination and the race to election night are presented as savage games of manipulation, a two-year marathon that is inhuman, one that could not possibly be real. For what sane nation would think that there's anything useful in that process? It's part of the comedy of the piece. Also, using an ingenious postmodern conceit, Heilemann and Halperin create characters who have the names of the actual figures who participated in the 2008 election, but, like the country itself, they are personae in quotation marks.
The hero of the novel, a Candide-like naif named "Barack Obama," behaves in ways that would make him the noblest, purest man to ever run for office. Throughout, he actually believes that sticking to his principles and running on ideas will make him win and that the rest is a big circus ring show that he reluctantly must perform in. Behind the scenes, his Machiavellian staff keeps up with the shiv-shoving at others, allowing "Obama" to be above the fray, only having to deal with the women who are holding him back: his wife, "Michelle," who eventually comes around, and, of course, the other major Democratic candidate. In many ways, Game Change is a bildungsroman about "Obama" learning that what is demanded of him is way beyond what any single human being could ever deliver, yet the hopes of all of "America" are invested in him accomplishing just those . Thank God, it's just fiction.
The ostensible villain of the novel is "Hillary Clinton," the one person standing in the way of our noble knight achieving the greatness for which he is destined. However, in a twist, she is actually a pitiable, tragic figure, a respected woman of great accomplishment who surrounds herself with men whose sole seeming purpose is to tear her down while presenting themselves as supporting her. One of them, "Bill Clinton," her husband, an ex-president, is a swaggering, egotistical time-bomb who is one sexual affair away from destroying "Hillary." Another is the grotesque, evil "Mark Penn," an allegory for all conservative-leaning Democrats, a man who is always wrong but is treated as if he's always right, a pig whose sole devotions are to self-interest and profit. As "Hillary" veers from bitchiness to bitterness to self-pity, we can only laugh as she keeps merely eye-rolling at the antics of these two male buffoons and then guffaw when, of all people, she exiles the woman closest to her, "Patti Solis Doyle," and forces her to bear the blame for the failures of her campaign. Man, it's a good thing this is satirical fiction because otherwise it'd sure seem like the authors hate women.
The novel veers into sheer absurdism during its final third, when Heilemann and Halperin take us inside the campaign of irascible old man "John McCain," whose every utterance is punctuated by "fuck" or "goddamn." The Republican candidate swings between savage anger at phantoms and barely lucid apathy. This reader was laughing so hard he had to put the book down to wipe the tears when "McCain," outraged at having to attend events for his daughter's graduation, screeches, "How many fucking times can you fucking graduate from fucking Columbia?" Now that's comedy.
"McCain" is complemented by the novel's most impossible creation, "Sarah Palin," a God-loving idiot who truly believes she is somehow qualified for the position she is asked to fill, Vice-President. "Palin" is like Forrest Gump combined with the awful aspects of every other woman in the book, whether it's the self-pitying viciousness of "Hillary Clinton," the screeching harpy behavior of "Elizabeth Edwards," or the incompetence of "Patti Solis Doyle." And "Sarah Palin" shops and primps, too, and is prone to bouts of depression...
Wait a second...sorry, what?...no, really?...non-fiction?...you're kidding...well, then it's total bullshit. 'Cause if this is real, our system for electing a president is fucked beyond fucked. And these guys really, really hate women.
(Note: The Rude Pundit was asked to participate in what's being called a "virtual book tour" for the release of the paperback version of Game Change. He's not really sure how this is a "book tour," since Halperin and Heilemann aren't visiting, but, sure, hey, call it what you want. That's why today's blog post is a review of Game Change. If you get a chance, check out the review by Thers over at Whiskey Fire. He feels much the same as the Rude Pundit does.)