Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Water Music

with 12 comments

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

12 Responses to 'Water Music'

Subscribe to comments with RSS or TrackBack to 'Water Music'.

  1. Interesting. You’re right, of course: I could–and often do–enjoy novels with a presumption of good intent in other fields, but I’d find such a novel set in the modern (post-FDR) political system “disorienting” at the least. I not only don’t see any goodwill on the part of my opponents, I don’t see much of it among many of my allies. (No, I don’t think I’m being misanthropic: I think I’m being realistic as Drury, perhaps, was not.)

    The movie people may have been right, of course. I’d say killing off the only indisputable good guy and leaving no one for the audience to root for would be a hard sell–and movies, I think, have to attract a greater percentage of their potential audience to be successful. Certainly the investment is much greater.

    Worth noting that Drury got on the bad side of American liberals by distrusting the Soviets. Plenty of people who ran around denouncing the “inordinate fear of Communism” when Drury was writing run around today bragging that “we” won the Cold War.

    If you don’t sign up for the race, you don’t get to do the victory lap.


    5 Oct 14 at 3:50 pm

  2. Half a hijack – harking back to the “What happened to Greg” thread.

    City Journal popped this into my mailbox this morning: http://www.city-journal.org/2014/eon1005mh.html


    6 Oct 14 at 2:15 am

  3. I never read Advise and Concent because I don’t like political novels about the present time.

    Hijack alert. This is an amusing take on Dawkins from a left wing source.



    6 Oct 14 at 3:09 am

  4. jd

    11 Oct 14 at 2:58 pm

  5. Hijack No 3.5

    This should get the juices flowing again. Oh, Brave New World!



    18 Oct 14 at 9:30 am

  6. Babies in the “cloud”?


    18 Oct 14 at 9:31 am

  7. Mique, the first question is whether the Heinlein estate can find some way to sue. We’ve almost caught up with PODKAYNE OF MARS (1963) in which career women got married, had the babies, froze the babies and thawed them out decades later. (The plot driver is a mix-up at the cryogenics center.)

    It’s a legitimate problem. Centuries of scientific advance have left us with jobs which require quick minds and nimble fingers more than strong backs, women who only need to bear a little over two children each to perpetuate the species instead of eight, and a reasonable expectation of being healthy and active in our fifties and sixties. I am not surprised that people look for a technological fix for a problem caused by the march of science.

    But no, I don’t expect this particular solution to work. It might if we had, as a species, a home and family instinct. I think what we’ve got is men with a sex drive, and women with less sex drive but a cuddle and nurture impulse. Without contraception, this pretty well gets you the home and family thing. With it, not so much. And culture, which ought to provide a substitute for those missing instincts, has pretty well gone on walkabout. So eggs will go bad in storage, babies will be flushed down the drain–it’s already happened: custody fights over frozen embryos–and as a civilization, the West will continue to make insufficient investment in the next generation until the whole thing comes crashing down again. Perhaps our great-grandchildren will profit from the experience.

    And perhaps not. Shall we all now recite “The Gods of the Copybook Headings?”


    18 Oct 14 at 12:30 pm

  8. And once more I missed half a sentence. Second paragraph, second sentence ought to conclude “…fifties and sixties, but bodies designed to best have and nurture babies at an age when culture says the girls should be college students.”

    Someday I will learn to proofread.


    18 Oct 14 at 12:35 pm

  9. And yet another startling bit of new just this minute surfacing here in Oz. According to the ABC’s evening news, two out of three young people applying for apprenticeships here in Oz are “functionally illiterate”.

    I’m not the least bit surprised.


    19 Oct 14 at 4:22 am

  10. jd

    26 Oct 14 at 1:32 am

  11. In the absence of Jane, I will post 2 links from Quadrant Magazine that might interest people. Quadrant is considered a right wing magazine down here.

    The first is about the danger of majority rule.


    And the second is an unflattering look at Greenpeace



    28 Oct 14 at 12:03 am

  12. Sigh, I will try another link. Good, literate writing and a good analysis.



    31 Oct 14 at 2:51 am

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Bad Behavior has blocked 254 access attempts in the last 7 days.