AMERICAN POLITICAL FICTION SUCKS….In the current issue of the Monthly, Christopher Lehmann bemoans the fact that Americans can’t write political fiction. (Good political fiction, that is.) I’m not literature savvy enough to really have an opinion about his overall thesis, but I was glad to see this:

In 1994, [Christopher] Buckley drew upon his experience as a speechwriter for Vice President George H.W. Bush to produce Thank You for Smoking, an engaging send-up of the grimly farcical rounds of advocacy for the tobacco industry, as well as of the excesses of its opponents. Since then, however, Buckley’s novels have acquired a one-note tetchiness in both tone and subject. They read less like gimlet-eyed parody than gussied-up “O’Reilly Factor” transcripts.

Thank You for Smoking was my introduction to Buckley fils, and it was so good that I bought three other Buckley books after that. I found them all tedious, forced, and unfunny, and wondered for some time if this was because of Buckley or because of me. If Lehmann is right, it was Buckley after all. Phew!

On a broader note, Lehmann’s primary theme is that for over a century American political fiction has been trapped in a stultifying Mr. Smith-ian straitjacket from which it’s never been able to escape:

From The Gilded Age on, Washington was to be the premier setting of a strikingly continuous American political fable of innocence at risk. This sturdy tale typically pitches a political naif’s fateful interest in the machinery of reform against the backdrop of irredeemably fallen, endlessly seductive relations of power in the nation’s capital.

….This stubborn moralizing impulse is what makes American political fiction, even today, such watery and unsatisfying literature: It deprives writers of the best material.

I’m afraid my political fiction reading pretty much starts and ends with Advise and Consent and Primary Colors, so I can’t really offer up an opinion on whether Lehmann’s thesis holds water ? although it sounds plausible for a lot of reasons related to American culture in general. But I’ll bet I have a lot readers who are more well versed in American political fiction than I am. So what do you think? Is Lehmann right?

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