Is Barack Obama Going to Improve the Washington Novel?

Among the galleys currently taunting me on my bookshelf is The Rules of the Game, the forthcoming novel by former Washington Post editor Leonard Downie Jr. I don’t exactly have high hopes for it—if the book itself has as many groaning cliches as the promotional patter—“highest levels of Washington politics,” “ripped from today’s headlines,” “dark secrets,” “network of wrongdoing”—I’m tempted to say I’ve already read it. (Somebody in Knopf’s PR department really does need a talking-to here. There are about five people living in Crystal City who are gonna get excited about a promo blurb that includes the term “no-bid Pentagon contracts.” No-bid Pentagon contracts! Seatbelts fastened!)

The blurb also slyly points out that the novel features a woman president. The female-president-in-crisis has long been a hacky film device (probably in novels too, though I can’t think of an example at the moment), but it may prove to be even less interesting now that a black president-elect is preparing to take charge. Smartly, wire service the Canadian Press Associated Press’ deployed a reporter to find out if Obama’s election marks a change for the Washington novel. (Which has a few issues.) Christopher Buckley naturally gets a lot of the story’s real estate, but I’m glad the anonymous journalist Hillel Italie thought to give Ward Just a ring:

Ward Just, a former Washington Post reporter whose novels include “Jack Gance” and “The American Ambassador,” hopes Obama will inspire a couple of trends. Just looks forward to more stories about members of Washington’s black middle class and to a more serious approach to government.

“It’s so difficult to write about Washington without satire,” Just says. “Washington is a lot like Hollywood; the city has become so outsized and so preposterous in so many ways. If an Obama administration could bring some real statecraft and is seen as interesting and intelligent, that might prepare for a reader for a straight ahead novel that happened to be in Washington.”

Update: Thanks to Sarah Weinman for letting me know that the story was an AP piece by Hillel Italie, not an unbylined piece by the Canadian Press.


I’ll be out of pocket here through the Thanksgiving weekend, catching up on some reading and writing, though I may poke my head up on Twitter on occasion. Have a good holiday, and thanks for reading.

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