With the often-ridiculous U.S. presidential race in full swing, there's at least a 47 percent chance you'd like to forget about politicians for a few hours by immersing yourself in a novel. But be careful which novel you choose, because some of them feature ... politicians!
One such novel is J.K. Rowling's brand-new The Casual Vacancy, which includes local council members/candidates in its cast of characters.
Meanwhile, real-life politicians often appear briefly or not so briefly in historical fiction. Among the many books of that nature are Gore Vidal's Burr, Lincoln, and 1876; Stephen King's 11/22/63 (John F. Kennedy) and The Dead Zone (Jimmy Carter); and Darryl Brock's If I Never Get Back (Ulysses Grant).
But this post is more about novels featuring fictional American politicians.
One obvious example is Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men, which stars the Huey Long-like Willie Stark and his toxic mix of corruption and (mostly) faux populism. That mix sound familiar?
Another great fictional character who associates with politicians is speculator Colonel Beriah Sellers of The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner. The Sellers character -- created by Twain, not his coauthor -- is a funny, buffoonish, optimistic, amoral man who's a perfect vehicle for Twain's satire of government that caters to the rich and connected. The kind of government Mitt Romney can believe in.
The elitist Mitt seems to be missing the compassion gene, which reminds me of the "M" word in the title of another politician-starring novel: The President's Plane Is Missing by Robert Serling (brother of Rod). The book's White House occupant, Jeremy Haines, combines some of the better qualities of JFK and Lyndon Johnson.
A more recent president, Bill Clinton, is the model for Jack Stanton in Primary Colors, a novel authored by an "Anonymous" guy who turned out to be Joe Klein. That book is full of politics and politicians, which is appropriate given that most politicians are full of ... themselves.
How about a novel with a real president in its title? That would be Jack Finney's humorous fantasy The Woodrow Wilson Dime.
Another commander-in-chief, Franklin Roosevelt, is defeated in the 1940 election by Charles Lindbergh in Philip Roth's alternate-history novel The Plot Against America. (Alternate-history novels are obviously related to the historical-novel genre mentioned near the start of my post.) Roth's book, like E.L. Doctorow's Ragtime and Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex, also includes references to Henry Ford. What does that have to do with politicians? Ford was an unsuccessful U.S. Senate candidate in 1918!
There are also fictional Senators in books such as Richard Condon's political thriller The Manchurian Candidate, with its Joe McCarthy-like Johnny Iselin; and Sinclair Lewis' It Can't Happen Here, whose Sen. Buzz Windrip gets all dictatorial on us after being elected president.
Some novels contain a mix of made-up and real officeholders. One example is Stephen King's aforementioned The Dead Zone, which includes evil fictional politician Greg Stillson along with the more benign Jimmy Carter.
So, those are among the books you might avoid when trying to briefly forget the U.S. presidential race! Though, come to think of it, some politicians are fairly interesting people -- even if you can't trust most of them. And if they're fictional, they can never let you down!
Which are your favorite novels featuring American politicians? You could also name novels with non-U.S. pols, such as the wizard and Muggle ministers in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series -- a pre-The Casual Vacancy creation you may have heard of.
Dave Astor's memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional -- which includes firsthand sightings of politicians such as Hillary Clinton and Al Gore -- has been published.
If you'd like to buy a signed copy, contact Dave at firstname.lastname@example.org. There's also an Amazon listing here. (Two things in that listing STILL haven't been corrected by Amazon: The 2012 book came out in July, not May; and it's from Xenos Press, not self-published.)