Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics

drawing of a donkey is art on cover of "Primary Colors"Primary Colors is a fictional backroom account of a current—1996—presidential bid by Jack Stanton, the Democratic governor of a southern state.

Henry Burton tells the story. Stanton doesn’t offer Henry a job; he absorbs him into his staff.

The grandson of a famed civil rights leader, Henry had worked for a congressman after college before abandoning the Beltway for a teaching gig. Henry thinks he’s being used as “racial cover,” but he’s very impressed by Stanton’s ability to connect with ordinary people.

He’s less favorably impressed with Stanton’s truth-stretching facility, nevertheless he finds a comfortable perch where he can observe the internal operations of the campaign while “working the phones, doing stuff.”

The novel is packed with historical and political trivia from FDR’s presidency forward: who ran, what made them good candidates, what brought them down.

Primary Colors captures the aspirations and intensity of Stanton’s political campaign as well as the idealism, audacity, dedication, duplicity, and stupidity of the campaigners.

The negativity with which the Democrats regard news organizations like The Washington Post and NPR, which today are trashed by Republicans seems odd, but as I write this in January 2020, the rest of Primary Colors feels very contemporary.

Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics
by Anonymous
Random House. ©1996. 366 p.
1996 bestseller #8; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Mockingbird still sings sweetly

To Kill a Mockingbird is a rarity among novels: good literature that’s both interesting and easy to read. A best-seller in the U.S., it also won a Pulitzer prize for literature.

The book has two threads. First, is about  the Finch youngsters, Jem and his sister, called Scout, and their summer-vacation pal, Dill. They invent wild plans to lure the town’s recluse, Arthur “Boo” Radley into the open so they can see if he really is a monster.

The town’s older generation has its own monsters. When a black man is accused of raping a white girl, Atticus Finch is appointed to defend him—hardly an enviable position for a white lawyer in 1930s Alabama. His children soon hear the epithet “nigger-lover”—and worse.

From these two threads, Harper Lee weaves a story about what it means to be grown up enough to respect other people who are different from ourselves, whether they are a different color or a different class or just from some other place.

The film version of the book, starring Gregory Peck, faithfully depicts the plot and main theme of the novel, but it cannot possibly show the details and nuances that make the novel a classic.

If you haven’t read the novel in a while, get it out again. It’s definitely worth rereading.

To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
Lippincott, 1960
296 pages
1961 bestseller #3
My grade: A

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Kingsblood Royal is timeless but irritating

About 70 pages into Kingsblood Royal, Sinclair Lewis throws a bombshell into his boring characters’ boring lives—and the rest of the book is a real page-turner.

Capt. Neil Kingsblood has come home from World War II to a comfortable, suburban, middle-America life. Neil’s father sets him to chasing down his ancestors. Neil discovers his father’s forebears were ordinary yeomen, not aristocrats as his father had hoped.

He decides to look up his mother’s French ancestors.

The state historical society supplies copies of a letter by Xavier Pic, one of Neil’s ancestors who described himself as “a full-blooded Negro from Martinique.” That ancestry makes Neil a Negro by 1940s law most places in the US.

Should he keep quiet for the sake of his family or reveal his findings?

To help him decide, Neil makes it his business to meet Negroes and find out what it is like to be “colored.”

Kingsblood Royal demonstrates that prejudice arises from fear. While making that point, however, Lewis continually makes snide remarks about his white characters, ridiculing their intelligence, their perceptivity, their motives. After a while, the comments become irritating.

Even in race relations, few things are as black-and-white as Lewis makes them.

Kingsblood Royal
By Sinclair Lewis
Random House, 1947
348 pages
#8 on the 1947 bestseller list
My Grade: B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni