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Water Music

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So here it is, Sunday, and after a really long time of not being able to take the day the way I like to, I’ve decided that today is it–I do have work to do, because I always have work to do, but I’m also in that dangerous place where it’s too easy to burn out and blow everything up.

So right now seems like a good time to let some things ride for the morning and try to relax a little.

Sort of.

Given the way my fiction sounds at the moment, I figure it can’t hurt.

So first I put on the Pachibel Canons, and now I’ve got Handel’s Water Music, and everything would probably be hunky dory except that I’m obsessing about this book.

Not a book I’m writing. A book I’m reading.

The book is Allen Drury’s Advise and Consent, and if you don’t like spoilers, stop now.

The first thing is that, if you know anything about this book, you know it’s not new. 

It was published in 1959 in what seems to have been intended as a one-off.  It became the first book in a long political series that was widely considered “conservative” because it took a hard line on the Russians in the cold war.

If you read it now, you won’t find anything we’d consider “conservative” in it EXCEPT the hard line with the Russians–and that little thing with liberals and Alger Hiss.

Okay, let’s back up a little.

It isn’t actually the Hiss story. 

It concerns the attempts of an ailing (and probably dying) President of the United States attempting to get a man, named Robert Leffingwell, confirmed as secretary of state.

Leffingwell is the sort-of Hiss character. Okay. More than sort of. 

This is an enormously complicated book, so enormously complicated I hesitate to outline the plot. 

Instead of doing that, let me back up yet again, this time to my experience of this book.

I read it as a teenager, and later read through the entire series, which actually had two separate endings, published as two separate novels.

Many years later, I recommended this series to Bill, in the spirit of showing him that even novels that weren’t in genres had plots.

Bill read the entire series, wrote to Drury, and eventually carried on quite a correspondance with him before the cancer got in the way of it.

At the time all that was going on, however, I did not reread the series myself, and didn’t reread any of it until this past week, when I started in on Advise and Consent again.

What I did do over the years, though was to watch the movie, several times.

And in the end, when I started reading Advise and Consent this time, it was the movie I remembered, and not the book.

So, a couple of things:

1) There are a lot of things related to the passage of time.  Some of them are obvious–no cell phones (a key event in the plot comes about because our hero, Brig Anderson, is unable to get in touch with anybody over the course of a particular twenty-four hour period); the Russians and not the Islamists; women who stay home and housewife; attitudes to homosexuality.

2) Part of it is that thing I keep missing in modern work.  Drury seems to have been, like Erle Stanley Gardner, a man who honestly and sincerely believed in the basic decency of almost all people.    There is so little political rancor here of the kind we’re all used to that it can be disorienting. 

3) But although there is very little of that kind of thing, there is some, and the some always comes at the hands of people who have decided that the end is so important, it justifies any means at all. 

Drury, who almost certainly would have hated Tea Party conservatism with every fiber of his being, still managed to see the worm at the heart of left-liberalism’s rose more clearly than most modern writers, on either side, can see the thing they’re living in.

What really gets to me, though, is the way the movie whitewashed not the left-liberal villains (there are three), but other characters who are part of the incredible mess this whole thing becomes.

In the book, the hero is a young Senator named Brig Anderson, from Utah.  who ends up opposing the nomination of Leffingwell/Hiss for Secretary of State and ends up getting first blackmailed and then driven to suicide when he won’t back down.

In the movie, the hero is the Senate Majority Leader, Bob Munson, who knows nothing of the conspiracy against Anderson until Anderson is dead.

In the book, though, Munson is a reluctant but active participant in the conspiracy, the conspiracy could not have gone ahead without material he supplied it, and you’re really not supposed to admire him.

My best guess is that the movie people couldn’t quite envision making a film where the only truly admirable character dies three quarters of the way thourgh.

That makes a certain amount of sense, and especially commercial sense, but it does skew the message of the novel to hell and gone.

(A note–Munson does redeem himself in future novels of the series and ends up on the side of the good guys, but those novels hadn’t been written when this novel became a movie.)

Since, with one exception, everybody in this novel–including Brig Anderson–is what would have been called “liberal” at the time, it couldn’t be because the moviemakers were trying to make liberals look good at the expense of non-liberals. 

In fact, the one actual conservative of the piece tends to come off better than any of the liberals except Anderson himself, in both the book and the movie.

When you sell a book to the movies, the advice everyone gives you is always the same:  take the money and run.

They never made movies of any of the other books in this series, and maybe it’s just as well.

But this book is worth reading, as are the books that follow it, and both the endings.

Written by janeh

October 5th, 2014 at 9:57 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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