The First Man by Albert Camus

I thought I had read all of Albert Camus’s novels–turns out I was right and I was wrong.  The First Man is an unfinished manuscript Camus was working on at the time of his death. It’s fairly long for a book by Camus, but based on his notes, it would have been much longer in the final version.

Here we have a bildungsroman that is told from Jacques’s perspective as a boy and, intermittently, as a 40-year-old man. The novel is written in great detail, all the peculiarities of being French in Algeria–and poor–and all the solemn facts of being poor and fatherless, growing up with a demanding grandmother, a slow-witted uncle, and a half-deaf mother, whom Jacques adores.

Algiers is depicted as rough, sun-blasted and coastal. The French are surrounded, naturally, by Arabs, and they are living a shadow life– a life shadowed by the presence of a France many of them never have seen, although that is where Jacques’s father died in WWI.

Jacques wins a scholarship to the lycée, which totally changes his life, but from the extant manuscript we can only guess how much since the 40-year-old is a sophisticated fellow with a penetrating moral vision that encompasses not only the contradictions of France and Algeria but also the contradictions of men and women, rich and poor, and war and peace.

From the remaining notes, also published in this edition, one can see that Jacques would have lived a complicated life, half on one side of the Mediterranean and half on the other. He would have been accomplished, thoughtful, a devout lover of certain women, and always mindful that the woman he loved the most, his mother, was beyond his reach, as he, on entering the lycée is beyond hers.

My thought is that this long manuscript is somewhat like Stephen Hero, Joyce’s first version of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  That manuscript, too, was ultimately highly compressed, as I would expect Camus to have compressed this one.

This partial book is compassionate in the sense that all the characters are given their due; Jacques is aware of all their sacrifices, as well as their shortcomings.  And yet he loves them all, and that accounts for the detailed rendering of his family life and his life as a boy among comrades, racing about the streets, exploring the beach, and having, before the lycée, essentially no knowledge of anything beyond his immediate sense perceptions.

The concept of “The First Man” is a way of conceptualizing everyone as the first person in his or her life, in his or her world.  Here we have the essence of the bildungsroman, the awakening to cause and effect, consequences, economic differences, and the nature of relationships between human beings.

Oddly, the synthetic notes appended to this manuscript are more eloquent than the extremely well-written manuscript itself. They sum things up. They point to the conflicts that will emerge between the French and the Arabs, and they also suggest ways in which a second or third generation Frenchman born in Algeria is an Algerian, not a Frenchman, a person who must accept the duality of the self and others as the French, in their Cartesian way, tend not to, emphasizing the unity of France (where all students study the same school lessons at the same time all over the country.)

I would recommend this book to almost anyone for the graphic quality of its writing and for the insights it offers into a writer’s process.  What cannot be seen here, which can only be imagined, is the aesthetic choices Camus ultimately would have made in rendering Jacques’s tale more compact and comprehensible.

As in The Stranger, the sun is a constant companion here, but Jacques is no morally insensible, anesthetized protagonist.  He is sweetly real, vulnerable, intelligent, and sensitive.  He wants to see the sun, to be in the sun, so he can see more and more of what the sun, light, reveals about life.  Some mysteries are enfolded in the embrace of his father’s grave (he never knew him), but others, with the glittering intensity of the North African sun’s help, come clear: a man can be aware of everything, but he cannot be everything. Writers torture themselves over this  point. They want to write faster than they can live so that they can have it all before they die.

Unfortunately for us, Camus died young, and here we have only a portion of his final thoughts about what it means to be alive.

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Mensonge by Malcolm Bradbury

Here’s another odd gem from the shelves of a used book shop, Malcolm Bradbury’s satirical novel about a fictional French theorist named Henri Mensonge who allegedly took the Structuralists and the Deconstructionists one step further–by proving that the sex act (in his book, La Fornication) is the essence of being about nothing and  might as well be a long narrow street leading to a fountain as human copulation.

Bradbury himself was a British literary figure who specialized in American literature and wrote a number of novels but found time to skewer fashions of French thought in the latter half of the 20th century.  In this book, he writes about a figure, Mensonge, who was elusively not present, almost never spotted, and yet allegedly produced the greatest philosophical tract of the century…if in fact he did produce it … if in fact anything written can be termed great.

Mensonge reads like witty, erudite, academic stand-up comedy. For reasons that remain difficult to grasp Structuralism and Deconstructionism tended to replace traditional “philosophy,” particularly the branch known as epistemology with  indefiniteness and uncertainty, including uncertainty about whether authors wrote texts or texts wrote authors and whether authors (and others) were the subjects of their own lives (or the toys of crushing powers that had mastered the art of preserving their powers.)

There’s a weird lucidity to this full-scale, tongue-in-cheek attack on the French and their postulates designed to liberate the powerless from the powerful (by denying subjective authority to everyone).  It is very well written and blessedly brief.  Think of the notes to Lolita (Nabokov) or any number of puzzling fictions by Borges and you will have a sense of the approach Bradbury takes.

Not a major novel and somewhat dated (1987), Mensonge retains a dry British bite. But as La Fornication was only glimpsed in incomplete fragments, Mensonge also is a book you probably won’t encounter unless I happen to sell it to a used book store near you. And I might, if I find any takers.

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Gun Violence in America–Thinking It Through

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When I wrote Suffer the Children, I was cooly and stubbornly and subversively angry–still am–about the complex of factors that make American culture a gun culture.  I had the Sandy Hook slaughter in mind as a perfect symbol of our national degradation in worshipping guns and letting them get into the wrong hands. Columbine was just as bad; Virginia Tech was just as bad; Charleston (which came after publication) was just as bad; but the murder of elementary school children turned my stomach, as did the relative indifference of Congress to gun reform.

So I wanted to write a novel that would rub some people the wrong way and agitate some people in the right way. I did not want to write something that was simple and reductionist. I did not want to pretend the mess we are in will be easy to solve. I felt free to tease together a remotely plausible solution to protecting our children not because I thought it was “the answer” but because I wanted to provoke readers to ponder many different answers . . . or come up with their own answers.  In the end, I let real guns do the shooting, not in a school but in a restaurant, and I let people die, and believe it or not, it’s not pleasant to write that sort of scene, but I was writing a multi-faceted critique of the forces in play, and there was no avoiding death by conjuring some near escape or close call or reprieve from the violence an agitated gun owner can cause.

So what are the forces in play? Right now significant gun reform is blocked by the National Rifle Association and similar moneyed special interests.  Some but not all of the money used to buy political support comes from the gun industry, which is large. Some of the money comes from law-abiding, safety conscious gun owners. Suffer the Children presents the gun lobby in a very negative light. In Suffer the Children neither politicians nor gun interests are treated kindly. I have dealt at high levels with our political and economic classes and sectors, and I have seen enough of the cynicism and self-interest and ignorance that motivates them to draw what I think is a fairly accurate, if fictional, picture.

One of the key elements in fighting gun reform is a deliberate misinterpretation of the second amendment to the constitution, which reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  Any 8th grade English teacher could tell you that it is impossible to construe this amendment by separating the idea of keeping and bearing arms from the idea of a well regulated militia ensuring the security of a free state.  The amendment does not relate to the universal right of individuals to keep and bear arms for their personal purposes. At the time of its writing, the second amendment reflected the reality that the United States did not have a military force adequate to ensure national security; so it might be necessary to call upon citizens to form militias.  The United States has long had a military force sufficient to protect itself. Militias are obsolete in the context of highly advanced societies.

Nevertheless, gun advocates deliberately distort the second amendment to read otherwise, and this leads to astonishing outcomes–not militias protecting national security, but an average of 30, 000 or more gun-related deaths in America every year, school children slaughtered, theater-goers slaughtered, soldiers themselves slaughtered. If someone wants a gun in the United States, there are plenty available through stores, gun shows and on the street. And a misreading of the second amendment is used to make that possible.

There has been in our country a need for guns that has dwindled, but it undeniably did exist when we were a lawless frontier society.  There also has been in our country a deep-seated commitment to the sovereignty of the individual, which has not dwindled and which probably should not dwindle, except insofar as it is recklessly linked to protecting individual sovereignty (which really means the right to vote and the right to due process of law and the right to privacy and so forth) by means of a gun.

In Suffer the Children, I investigate scenarios where children themselves get their hands on guns (it happens), where gun interests play hardball to protect their markets and profits (it happens), where politicians mouth inanities about guns (it happens), and where communities are overwhelmed by the pernicious presence of guns in the wrong hands (it happens.)

One of the reinforcing elements of our gun culture is the media celebration of violence. We see this on movie screens, television, and computer monitors.  The situations represented might be theaters of war or dystopias or cities that look much like our own.  I have worked closely with the military and with police. They are imperfect, so there are some outliers (dangerously so), but in the main a person who really knows the horror of a single bullet, much less dozens shot in a span of seconds, regards bullets as unholy intruders in civilized life.

But again, there are so many guns in America, and in the world, that bullets are flying everywhere and the military and police have to protect themselves and others.  This is not a comfortable or necessary solution, certainly not within the United States’s borders. Go to the United Kingdom, go to Germany, go to most advanced, highly-developed countries and you will not find as many guns or as many mass murders as you will find here in the U.S. But on the opposite side of the coin, you will not find target and sport shooting or hunting banned. Somehow other countries manage to permit and regulate guns in ways that the United States rejects.

Our politicians want gun money and our gun manufacturers want gun money and our rugged individualists (most of whom would never misuse a gun) want to pay for guns in sufficient quantities to make gun money very important here–important enough to misread the Constitution, important enough to watch slaughter after slaughter take place and take weak, if any, countermeasures.

Who suffers? First and foremost, the innocent–children either killed in direct assaults or by drive-by shootings or by pure accident , and children who are born into the warped rhetoric and logic of our national obsession with guns, guns, guns.  So I incorporated the perspective of children into Suffer the Children; I traced the mishaps and alienation and distortions that put children in the crosshairs. But I also focused on the role of adults–both innocent and culpable, responsible and reckless.

The point of a novel, as E.L Doctorow (who died this week) once said, is to enable a reader to experience events.  Exactly so.  I don’t apologize if experiencing events through Suffer the Children is tough on some readers, but I wrote it only partially to satirize and shame devotees of guns. My principal aim was to energize responsible readers to do something about the rule of guns in this country.  When I thought through what happens here almost every day, I came up with a tale that is both smooth and prickly, normal and abnormal, realistic and fantasy-fueled.

Again, novelists do this sort of thing. Fiction is fiction. Suffer the Children is fiction, but that does not mean it is not, in some measure, quite true.

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The Face, a novella in verse by David St. John

The Face strikes me as more a short story than a novella, and I am not entirely sure why it is described as “in verse,” except that the author normally writes poetry, and what he writes here –be it poetry or prose– is vivid, graphic, hip, jarring, allusive, concentrated, and intense.

The story line goes something like this: a man reflects upon the mirror of his life (his face) broken in shards at his feet or traced by searchlights across the Hollywood sky after the premiere of a movie made of his nonexistent but very rich experience on earth, which has been deeply . . . deeply . . . tied to the frustrating, delicious, ambiguous taste of YOU who have left him.  Something like that.

The pleasure of the book lies in the acrobatic slithering of the writing across the face of Italy, noir movies, a California childhood, and towards the end, a giveaway mention of experiences in the dimension of lit (I’ll return to this in a moment). Reading it reminded me of Pynchon, Bolaño, Rushdie and William Gass. That’s good company. Pynchnon, Bolaño and Rushdie for the over-the-top fascination with the culture of things, references, theories, and implicit self-mockery. Gass for the better spells of moderated lyricism.

But still, this volume (coming back to lit again) has a borrowed feeling about it, all the right shots of Italy, gorgeous memories of girlfriends, and references to Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum. These are more or less exactly what a thin layer of recent culture, be it hip or cool or up or down, would hold dear . . . what a hothouse -bred, super-grade MFA writer would whip out to mystify and outrun his readers . . . what an autobiographer would offer as a non-life because all of it, really, is a kind of nothing, simile instead of substance, wisecracks instead of wisdom.

Where the author himself stands in all this, I am not sure. This is a droll book, for sure. As they used to say (and I don’t know if they still say it), it is on to itself, it doesn’t let itself get away with its feints and tricks. But again, the self-mockery does not feel real; it feels hyped–talent too much in love with its gift for rendering emptiness, dead ends, and the experience of traveling all over the world and getting nowhere.

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What is an Editor? Saxe Commins at Work by Dorothy Commins

Used book stores contain treasures. This is one of them. The name Saxe Commins rang a bell–one of a generation of great editors during the 30s, 40s, and 50s–and so for $2 I bought it. I just checked on Amazon to make sure it’s still available there, and yes, it is, so if you are interested in the work of an editor who worked closely with Eugene O’Neill, William Faulkner, Sinclair Lewis, and many others, I would recommend purchasing it.

Commins’ s wife Dorothy combined her own memories, Commins’s notes and letters, letters from many authors and publishers, and created a short book with deep insight into the hidden work of an author’s alter ego.  Perhaps today such editors are scarce, but in Commins’s day, editorial work often included the closest, almost familial, kind of labor in giving birth to whatever an author was trying to say–and get it said well.

The major stories here are two: Commins’s engagement with the three Nobel Prize winners named above.

The O’Neill story is the most compelling. O’Neill was an established dramatist when Commins came along, but they soon became virtual best friends, someone O’Neill trusted implicitly. In the period leading up and through Long Day’s Journey into Night, Commins would travel to wherever O’Neill was living (he moved around a lot) and literally type his handwritten manuscripts, reviewing O’Neill’s words with him as he proceeded.

I’m not O’Neill’s greatest fan, but I thoroughly enjoyed insights into his work process. He often took notes, made character sketches, framed scenes, etc., in word counts up to 100,000 before deciding a play idea would not succeed. He sometimes wrote plays for his own private enjoyment. In the case of Long Day’s Journey into Night, he famously wrote a will forbidding it be published or performed until 25 years after his death. Commins and Random House were to ensure this.

But O’Neill’s disastrous marriage to a sometimes psychotic harridan self-named Carlotta Monterrey, detailed in horrifying depth here, enabled his will to be violated within two years after he was gone. The negative impact on Commins and Bennett Cerf was palpable. They declined to do what Carlotta insisted as executrix, so the play, O’Neill’s masterpiece, was brought out by Yale University Press.  Commins, by this time, had long since been banned from contact with his good friend by Carlotta, who buried O’Neill  with no family, friends, or supporters present.

The sickening intimacy with greatness manifested itself in the case of Sinclair Lewis, too. Here poor Lewis, world-renowned, considered himself the loneliest man on earth. And he was lonely, not just making it up. He’d move and invite friends to visit, but the visits inevitably came to an end, and that left the author facing the blank page by himself again and again.  During one period, Commins not only edited Lewis’s work, but he also exchanged visits with him several times a week in the evening (they both lived in New York at the time). The point was to keep Red, as he was known, company and let him win at chess now and then. Commins couldn’t fix Red’s existential misery, but he was a good guy, a good friend.

Many other authors from W.H. Auden to Irwin Shaw to John O’Hara were touched by Commins’ blue pencil. They all had large egos, Auden’s the best of them, O’Hara the worst of them.

Then along came William Faulkner. I have read almost all of Faulkner’s work, taught it (even taught his grandson “The Bear), and know a lot about him, but the portrait of Faulkner here is as good as any I have read. Commins took Faulkner in on trips north, visited him in Mississippi, and basically was “family.”  The featured piece in this book is Faulkner’s flop, in my opinion, A Fable.  He apparently thought a) he was running out of gas but b) A Fable was the biggest and best book he had ever undertaken.  Commins’s view on this isn’t clear, but of course, an editor of a work in progress is not going to take his author down a peg. To the contrary, he’ll try to push him up a peg, or several pegs, and that’s what Commins did for Faulkner, dealing with his alcoholism, his sartorial needs for receiving the Nobel Prize, and spreading manuscript all over his dining room so that he and Faulkner could debate where something fit, where it didn’t, and where it was lacking.

If you are intrigued by  the behind the scenes of literary publishing and still revere its mid-century giants, this is a book worth reading.  Editors often get a bad rap (though not as bad as agents) in part because they have to pass on so much work and sometimes make howling mistakes. Commins is not presented as error-free here, but he does come through as an exemplar of flexible support, sternness where necessary, and deep sympathy with writers wrestling with their demons.  These days I would venture that no publishing house could afford to devote a senior editor so fully to its authors, Nobel-prize winning or not. More to the point, being bottom-line corporations, the remaining New York publishers would not, as a matter of principle, let intimacy and allegiance suck up so much staff time.

Well, things were different then. It’s nice to read about how things were, even though much of this book reveals the pain of the literary life as opposed to the fleeting moments of triumph.

The absolute killer coda to the entire book is Faulkner’s telegram of condolence to Commins’s wife when Commins died.  It read in full: THE FINEST EPITAPH EVERYONE WHO EVER KNEW SAXE WILL HAVE TO SUBSCRIBE TO WHETHER HE WILL OR NOT QUOTE HE LOVED ME UNQUOTE BILL FAULKNER.

Commins was that kind of guy. He appears to have worked himself to death in support of others’ genius.

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Memories of the Ford Administration by John Updike

This is an erratic, unsuccessful novel that demonstrates that great writing is not enough to generate great books.  As always, Updike displays his astonishing eye for detail–and couples it with an unusually thoughtful approach to American history–but the parts do not add up to a whole despite twenty pages at the end that serve to complete, or partially save, the text surprisingly well.

Here we have one Alf, an historian obsessed with James Buchanan (the only president from Pennsylvania) conflating his failed attempts to write a unique book about Buchanan with his failed attempt to carry off an affair with another man’s wife (while abandoning his own and his children.)  All this occurs during  Gerald Ford’s presidency, hence the title, but Ford gets little play here.

Written in the weakly comic form of a memo to a New England historical association, Alf sometimes reflects on Genevieve, his lover, and their affair, and sometimes offers long historical reflections on Buchanan.  There’s no one-to-one correspondence between the two parallel stories, just some interstitial ice-dancing by Alf in his attempts to combine the two.

That said, once the lugubrious Buchanan finally achieves the presidency and is faced with the trouble brewing in South Carolina, the actual history here is interesting–as well-informed and better written than similar pieces by Gore Vidal (Burr, etc.).  And Alf’s broader reflections on his own self-indulgent behavior and the haplessness of contemporary American culture and politics reflect Updike’s deep, amused interest in almost everything from the fashions of the day to the performance of Volvos to the varieties of religious experience to be obtained by munching on the part of a woman that is to be found between her legs.

Just reading Updike is to ask yourself how much you miss in a given day that he always captures and puts to use. It is also, in this particular book, to be exposed not only to his supple intellect but also to his firm judgment. He was a devout middle-of-the-roader, perhaps accounting for his interest in the sorely tried Buchanan (caught between north and south). For him (Updike’s gone now), the sky was never quite falling and yet bliss–especially the sexual kind of bliss–was dependably transient.

The amount of research Updike must have put into generating this novel is somewhat mind-boggling. Even though Buchanan, like Alf, is not an interesting character in and of himself, his times, more than Alf’s times, were interesting. Romance was not so easy back in the 19th century, gossip was more harmful, and one had to be more careful of one’s reputation. By the same token, politics had a certain dignity and formality–and skullduggery, one must admit–that cost Buchanan a lot of effort. He, too, wanted to be in the middle, but where was the middle?

The middle in Alf’s case seems to have been the general muddle of the Ford administration. In some ways, the most intriguing moment in Alf’s affair with Genevieve comes at its end. He wants to disbelieve her call to order, but she has had enough and does not believe (as he does and thinks everyone in the Ford era does) that his unfaithfulness to her (he’s not quite a serial offender, but when he gets a chance, he is) is no big deal.

Both of them go back to their flawed mates and confused children, but in Updike’s world, this is okay, how things go, something to observe and ponder, not dramatize.

Updike’s essentially benign view of humanity’s imperfections derives from two things: 1) his comic spirit and 2) the undamaged narcissism of being an only child.

This probably explains why he brings his story to the edge of divorce and total rupture within two families and to the edge of civil war and total rupture within a nation but does not go into the gory, permanently damaging realities of maimed children and soldiers and societies. Updike was no Ingmar Bergman or William Styron. He was not a writer interested in total darkness taking over his imagination, but it can’t be said that he didn’t have a well-conceived position on rejecting tragedy. And there’s something to what he seems to say: “Life goes on, like it or not.”

This novel? Well, I’ve said it doesn’t work, but yet as an artifact of the times and of aesthetic failure, it probably is worth reading all the way through, but that presupposes a willingness to be pleased more by dazzling detail and observation than repelled by a narrative conceit yielding two books, each half written, within the cover of one.

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The Natural by Joe Klein

Joe Klein’s retrospective look at the Clinton administration (published in 2002) borrows the title of Bernard Malamud’s novel, The Natural, about a gifted baseball player, so let’s stay with the baseball metaphor a moment.

By Klein’s account, Bill Clinton played “small ball,” which is to say he hit singles, stole bases, hit more singles, finally scored, and then did it over again as he outlasted barrages of homers from more powerful adversaries.

This is a fine, close-in study. It is well-written and draws on personal encounters and insight as well as the larger, well-known contours of Clinton’s up and down presidency.

Entering office with large aspirations, Clinton and his wife failed at health care reform through arrogance, secrecy, and wonkiness.  But Clinton succeeded with NAFTA (about which I have some questions, and I was present at the creation under the first Bush), welfare reform, Americorps, balancing the budget, and inventions like the egregiously named earned income tax credit, which was meant to help low-income workers, and did, without alerting the nation to the fact that it was a tax break

The Clinton administration was conducted at a time of peace and prosperity. America was #1 again. We were, in Madeleine Albright’s stupid phrasing, the indispensable nation, but the challenges abroad were not great, and the challenges at home were opposed ferociously by the Gingrich-led Republican party.

Ultimately Gingrich self-destructed. Clinton tried to follow him with Monica Lewinsky, but the “Comeback Kid” survived impeachment.

We more or less know all this. We know Clinton was a creature of private desires and appetites.

The arresting aspects of this book go back to the “small ball” theme. Clinton accomplished a lot.  He balanced the budget and audaciously targeting the surplus on “Save Social Security First,” a state of the union phrase that represented, in itself, a way of thwarting Republicans from taking a  trillion out of the public coffers and redistributing it to the wealthy.

Clever move. Meaningful move. Clinton flew under the radar a lot, believe it or not, and Klein portrays an administration that became increasingly more disciplined as it matured (to the point that Clinton, apparently, could not stand his success and unzipped his pants in the wrong place.)  In so doing, he did not become a great leader.  Having achieved much, he failed to make clear that the Republican opposition to redistribution is based on America already had redistributed wealth to the rich. He also failed to make clear that when Republicans howled against class warfare, they were the experts at it.  And he was inattentive to the mess Hillary was making of health care reform or the progress of his unifying project, AmeriCorps.

Without saying so explicitly–and I don’t know why–Klein clearly portrays Clinton as a man who hated to say no to anyone and would rather accommodate than aggravate. He was a fighter more with himself and his staff than with his adversaries. He was shrewd, unbelievably well-informed, and relatively indifferent to the world.  The terror that we live with today was born during his times. It wasn’t his fault, but he showed little leadership in dealing with it as he let the intelligence community shrink and the Pentagon shirk. Blackhawk Down in Somalia was a grim moment of retreat (not that we should have been there in the first place) and his waxing/waning enthusiasm for China’s markets certainly made the Japanese wonder who our strategic partner was.

The portrait of Al Gore here is good: here was a man who did not really want to be president as much as he could demonstrate his ability to boot away an election by himself.

The phenomenon of the politics of personal destruction is recounted as a decades-long polarization that was effective, and nauseating.  The Republicans planned Clinton’s downfall from day one. They did the same thing with Obama, a different man in different times, from day one.  Both presidents inherited economies that were faltering or plummeting and turned them around.  It makes you wonder how they could get a single vote in 2016.

This brings us to Hillary, Clinton’s wife and soulmate and sparring partner.  Presumably she’ll be the Democratic nominee in 2016 and the odds are she will win.  Does that mean she will repeat Clinton’s presidency?  It’s really not a sound question. Hillary learned a lot from her husband’s travails in The White House, as a senator, and as secretary of state. She was, to begin with, much more disciplined and focused than her husband and remains so. She lacks his “touch,” which is what Klein finds “natural” about Bill Clinton the politician, but I have spent time with both of them, and I can tell you they both have an electric effect on people, even if Hillary is an introvert and Bill is an extravert.

Klein’s book ends well before the second and third and possibly fourth phases of Hillary’s career presented themselves.  His assessment focuses on Bill, not Hillary.  He finds Bill to be more accomplished than people think and just as defective and disappointing as they think. He is a man to be measured against his astonishing strengths and resiliency and his equally astonishing weaknesses and demons.  Did he have the “stuff” to really lead the nation?  He would like to think so, and I suspect Klein thinks so, but the 90s were a political food fight, a disgrace on both parties, and a period of post-Cold War consolidation with which we still have yet to come to terms.  An Eisenhower or Truman might have tamed the decade with security about who they were.  As Lloyd Bentsen is quoted, the WWII generation might not have felt it had so much to prove. Bill Clinton was insecure, and he sailed again and again into trouble before tacking out toward calmer waters.

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