About The Librarian: A Political Thriller
Larry Beinhart wrote American Hero, upon which the movie
"Wag the Dog" is based. As if that weren't good enough, in this Guest
Contribution he gives BuzzFlash readers an exclusive commentary on
his new novel, one of our favorite BuzzFlash premiums, The
Librarian. The story line concerns a librarian who gets caught
up in a plot to steal the election for the son of a Republican dynasty.
Written months ago and released in September, Beinhart has proved himself
more truthful in this fictional piece than most of today's well paid
journalists on TV or in print. Larry Beinhart is also the Edgar award-winning
author of No One Rides for Free, You Get What you Pay For,
and Foreign Exchange. He was the Raymond Chandler Fulbright
Scholar at Oxford University. Here he talks about truth and
lies, and what went into the writing of
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A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
by Author Larry Beinhart
Non-fiction is full of lies.
Some of them are deliberate. The lies the spin doctors spin. Some are
matters of blindness, some lack of imagination, some of shallowness.
Some of propriety. Some of fear. The simple fear of saying things that
no one else is saying. Sometimes it's from being stuck in the trees
and never seeing the forest, let alone the earth from which it grows
or the relationship to the sun and the air and sky and the rain and
the rivers that run underground.
In all that I've read about George W. Bush, in non-fiction, I've never
seen anything that truly illuminated the man.
In all that I've read about the war in Iraq, in non-fiction, trying
to figure out why we went to war there, there was nothing that rang
so true that I said, that's it, that's the reason.
Until, actually, about a month ago, when Russ Baker ran a story about
Mickey Herskowitz, who had some 20 meetings with Bush back in 1999,
preparatory to ghosting an autobiography. The story goes back to the
Reagan administration. Which had many of the same cast of characters
that are running the country now.
They had the perception that having small, successful wars was the key
to a successful presidency, to passing their domestic agendas, and to
re-election. They had been inspired by Maggie Thatcher's adventures
in the Falklands, which took her from being on the verge of losing office,
to becoming the longest serving British Prime Minister in modern history.
That was the essence of American Hero, the book that became
"Wag the Dog" (to be re-released with that title next month.)
It was considered outrageous, far-fetched and satirical. All of which
it was. But it was true. It was truer than any of the non-fiction myths
and legends that they ran for us all those months on television. Or
even that they told us in the non-fiction books.
Herskowitz says that Bush said: "My father had all this political
capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted
it." And you can imagine young George standing there, during those
years and watching it happen. "If I have a chance to invade
I had that much capital, I'm not going to waste it. I'm going to get
everything passed that I want to get passed and I'm going to have a
successful presidency." That rings true.
I was on my way to a tennis game with Scott Menchin, an illustrator,
and he said, "This is an administration that wouldn't give up power,
even if they lost the election."
That rang true. It was also a great premise for a thriller. So I asked
if he minded if I used it, and he said no.
My very next thought was that I would make a librarian the hero.
At that point, about eighteen months ago, librarians were the first,
and among the only people, standing up to the excesses of the administration.
Also, there was something inherently comic and dramatic about making
a librarian the hero of an action novel. Especially if I didn't turn
him into an Indiana Jones character. But left him pretty much like the
guy who works in your neighborhood or university library.
I'd written the following some ten years earlier, on the acknowledgements
page of Wag the Dog, thanking my local librarians:
We get most of our information in shallow, predigested sound bites
and headlines. Whenever we want, or need, to look a little deeper,
to think a little more seriously, our libraries are our most effective
resource. Frequently, our only resource. Certainly, for the average
person, the only affordable one.
So there was another contrast there. The kind of knowledge and understanding
we get by going to the library versus what we get on television. It
is more about that now than ever before. George W. Bush won re-election
to the degree that he was elected either time based on voters having
When we think of narrative, we think of Beowolf or Gunga Din or Spiderman
Two. We think of a story.
But narrative is one of the fundamental tools we use for organizing
our lives. A trip to the grocery is organized as a narrative. So is
a political campaign. So is a war. When we tell someone about it, that's
It's not necessarily a "true" story. Even if it's a real life
narrative about real life events in which we spend real money and kill
real people. This is not to deny, in any way, that real things happen.
For example, nineteen men hijacked four planes and flew three of them
into buildings and the fourth one crashed. And they seem to have been
members of a group called Al Qaeda and led by Osama bin Laden.
The president told us that they did this because they hated our freedom
and they were everywhere and the only way to be safe was to launch a
War on Terror which came to include a pre-emptive war on Iraq. All of
that, is the narrative he told to us. Other narratives fit the few actual
facts equally well, or, as far as I'm concerned, much better.
We can deal with that in "non-fiction." I've read a lot of
the non-fiction Bush bashing books. I felt somewhat informed by most
of them, but I didn't get the experience of total illumination from
any of them. In addition, a presidential narrative has its own weight.
When you argue against it, line by line, you have to call him a liar.
It is difficult to imagine anyone who can lie so well and so consistently
as he must be doing, if we are to completely reject what he has been
telling us. So it is hard to accept the total cynicism, combined with
blind optimism, that must in my estimation actually be behind his
The chorus of the world - television, radio, the newspapers, your acquaintances
and colleagues has its own weight too. If they're all repeating this
narrative about War on Terror, WMD's, Saddam the threat, bringing democracy
to the Middle East, it's hard to say, no, no, I defy you all, you're
all spinning this fictive version of the facts, you're all liars.
If, however, I offer you a fictional president, named Augustus Winthrop
Scott, and tell you this is his motivation and this is his narrative,
you can accept that quite easily. Then, when you notice that his specifics
match the events in the real world, you can transfer it, you can say,
maybe there is a better narrative than the one we've been told.
It's also a clumsy matter, trying to refute the lies line-by-line. You
get caught up in the trees and never get to talk about the forest. In
fiction, I have certain freedoms. So I can talk about how much fun it
is to be an amoral political consultant. Bring torture and murder into
the tale. After all, the consequences of presidential acts often do
involve torture and murder. I can weave gender attitudes and sexual
feelings and erotic fears into the story and those things are part of
the story of the vote we just took.
Finally, not everybody likes to read all those so-called non-fiction
tracts. Some of those people like to read thrillers. They like to laugh.
They want to have a good time, while they're contemplating the dreadful
state of the world today and the perfidy of the villains who lead us.
For those people, and for those of you who are tired of tomes, I offer
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION