The American Scene

<em>The Race</em> - the renaissance of the political novel?

The novel can do many things. But rarely can it do them quickly. It takes too long to write, to manufacture, to distribute. As such, the political novel, in our crazy-hurry world, is usually a contradiction in terms. Nonetheless, Henry Holt has declared its new publication The Race, by Richard North Patterson, "the best political novel for years".

The Race, published in the 2007 primary season, takes that same season - specifically the Republican primaries - as its narrative setting. It's a transparent roman à clef. The hero, Senator Corey Grace, is a composite of two of Patterson's personal friends (as the author tells us in the afterword), John McCain and William Cohen. Like McCain, Grace is a war hero, an ace fighter pilot, and a gallant POW (to keep him young and sexy, Patterson has made it Desert Storm, not McCain's Vietnam). Like Senator Cohen, Grace has a glamorous African-American partner.

But what makes The Race interesting to the thoughtful observer is the novel's prince of darkness, Alex Rohr, who connects with the deep - and usually inscrutable - politics of the American book world.

A non-American mogul with a cultivated, "Oxbridge" accent, Rohr is the "semi-mono polistic" owner of "five magazines, three major film studios, a home-video company, a cable provider, four record labels, two publishing houses, one for general interest readers, the other for conservative Christians, a major broadcast network, the highest-rated cable news network, the nation's largest newspaper chain and 119 talk-radio stations".

Alex Rohr is, of course (whatever "is" means, as Bill Clinton once said), Rupert Murdoch, even down to the Oxford education. In the novel, Rohr News (a mirror image of Fox News) is the arch-villain's weapon of choice in the political conflict. Rohr is virulently pro-Republican, but for corrupt motives. He is interested in one thing only - power. And his stooges in the Republican administration will smooth his way to "media monopoly, immunity from lawsuits, lower taxes, and new ways of amassing wealth". Rohr is no supporter of Republican values; he poisons them. The only thing that stands in his way is our true Republican hero, Corey Grace.

It is not surprising that The Race has not been published by a Murdoch house such as HarperCollins. Henry Holt, whose pedigree goes back to the golden age of US publishing, is currently in dynamic partnership with the New York Times. And the Grey Lady hates the proprietor of its rival, the New York Post, and everything with the stench of Fox about it.

What makes these politics different from, say, the world of magazines, newspapers, radio talk shows, and cable-TV stations is that with books you have to dig a lot deeper to see where they are coming from. The Race will be published in the UK in February 2008, under the Macmillan imprint. It will be interesting to see what reviews, if any, it receives in Murdoch-owned organs.