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Primary colors : a novel of politics
1996
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Publishers Weekly Reviews

The circumstances behind this crackling, highly perceptive study of a presidential campaign that remarkably resembles Bill Clinton's are bizarre. We are assured that not even its publisher, Harold Evans, who signed the book, or its editor knows the identity of the author. A third party, independent of both the publisher and the author's agent, verified his (or her) credentials and oversaw the contract signing. All this has naturally led to the assumption that the author may be someone highly placed in Washington, possibly even within the Clinton Administration; the intimate knowledge of Washington folkways the narrative exhibits seems to bear that out. On the other hand, the literary sophistication on display-the shaping of the story, the characterizations, the atmosphere, the dialogue-is so considerable it seems a professional writer must be at work. But while the mystery may help galvanize sales, it does not affect the quality of the book, which stands as a definitive political novel for these uneasy times-a novel that's knowing about the easy abuse of sincerity, the overblown role of the media (all reporters are ``scorps,'' short for scorpions), the readiness to confuse means with ends. Henry Burton, the narrator, is a bright, youngish black man who rises quickly to a key position on the presidential primary campaign staff of Jack Stanton, governor of a small Southern state. Stanton is a brilliant portrait of a born politician, a man at once deeply calculating and genuinely spontaneous in his human reactions; his wife, Susan, a smart lawyer, despises his louche sexual adventuring but is driven by her own demons. Around them revolves a superbly observed staff, a mixture of deep cynicism, muddled idealism and, in the person of Libby, a ghost from Stanton's past who is at once explosively funny and tragic, a compulsive seeker of the truth. Stanton's fortunes fluctuate wildly in the campaign as he slogs through New Hampshire, endures a drubbing in New York (where a governor not unlike Mario Cuomo decided not to run) and seems to cause a heart attack in a buttoned-down rival in Florida. This inspires the entry of a mystery candidate with a magic touch, who turns out, in one of the novel's few overplotted passages, to have his own complex problems; the resolution, however, strikes just the right uneasily ambiguous note. Throughout the book, the attention to physical and emotional detail in the draining political process, the sparkling intelligence and-through the use of Henry as hero-the unusual empathy with which a range of African Americans are portrayed suggest a very considerable new novelist. (Feb.) Copyright 1995 Cahners Business Information.

Annotations

A former congressional aide of mixed race, Henry Burton takes a new job with Jack Stanton, governor of a small Southern state who has his eye on the presidency, observing his campaign, his idiosyncratic lifestyle, and the controversies and scandals surrounding him - (Baker & Taylor)

A former congressional aide of mixed race, Henry Burton takes a new job with Jack Stanton, governor of a small Southern state who has his eye on the presidency, observing his campaign, his idiosyncratic lifestyle, and the controversies and scandals surrounding him. 75,000 first printing. - (Baker & Taylor)

Young Henry Burton, a former congressional aide of mixed race and the grandson of a legendary civil rights leader, is going through a precocious midlife crisis. Tired of the back-scratching and back-stabbing and back-watching of legislative politics, he's wondering what to do next with his Beltway experience and abilities when Jack Stanton, the governor of a small southern state who has set his sights on the presidency, half flatters, half shanghais him into a campaign-staff job. What follows for Henry - and the reader - is an education in modern American electoral politics that in dramatic power, humor, psychological acuity, and insider knowledge beggars a hundred textbooks and a thousand lectures.
Henry hopes against hope that he has at last found a leader he can believe in. He then watches in admiration and dismay as, in his quest for votes, Governor Stanton combines calculation and sincerity, dodges a draft-controversy bullet, gorges on barbecue and poaches food off others' plates, seduces the occasional bystander, and confronts the resulting sex scandals. Henry's attempts to manage this impulsive pol - a prodigy of altruism and appetite - force him to confront his own ambivalence about political ethics, racial identity, and love.
Primary Colors has its rich rewards as a savvy insider's look at life on the stump. But it travels far beyond mere gossip and expose and discovers a convincing world of its own, peopled by smart cookies, nutcases, and wheeler-dealers, whose public and private lives illuminate each other - sometimes by casting dark shadows. This story spans the novelistic spectrum from bedroom farce to high moral drama, and it paints a picture of the political state of the nation so vivid and authentic that one finds in it the deepest kind of truth - the kind of truth that only fiction can tell. - (Blackwell North Amer)

A brilliant and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency. - (Random House, Inc.)

Flap Cover Text

and penetrating look behind the scenes of modern American politics, Primary Colors is a funny, wise, and dramatic story with characters and events that resemble some familiar, real-life figures. When a former congressional aide becomes part of the staff of the governor of a small Southern state, he watches in horror, admiration, and amazement, as the governor mixes calculation and sincerity in his not-so-above-board campaign for the presidency. - (Random House, Inc.)

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