“The Scandal Plan or: How to Win the Presidency by Cheating on Your Wife” (William Morrow, 438 pages. $24.95), by Bill Folman: No, it’s not a how-to manual. It’s a novel about a campaign that hatches an unconventional strategy for capturing the White House.
The story is made up, but the reader’s enjoyment of this funny book is real.
In a debut novel, Bill Folman focuses on the machinations behind the campaign of Sen. Ben Phillips, who is aiming to unseat a Republican president. On paper, Phillips sounds like a great candidate: Rhodes scholar, Vietnam veteran, eloquent, popular with constituents, etc.
But he’s down 20 points in the polls with less than three months to Election Day. What’s the problem? He’s too perfect. Voters just don’t connect with him. He’s just not a regular guy.
And all his accomplishments don’t mean much in the political trenches, a world where reporters besiege him with questions about his favorite sandwich. How could he declare in Nashville that his top choice was barbecued pulled pork on a bun, while five months earlier in New York he’d said it was pastrami on rye? This crucial issue led the local newscast.
“How can the senator have two favorite sandwiches? Small-but-inquiring minds want to know,” Folman writes. Republicans played it up as a character issue.
So a wily veteran staffer comes up with a novel plan to improve his public character: Put out a bogus story that Phillips had cheated on his wife long ago. What could be more endearingly human than that?
The fallout from that plan and assorted other disasters makes for an engaging and clever story. Folman tells it well, with a twisted plot and characters worthy of Carl Hiaasen, describing how people manipulate each other in their own little campaigns to achieve their goals.
And he writes with a deliciously jaundiced eye. He describes how a budding photographer gained acclaim with her photos of “the starving and limbless children of Bisanthia” and went on to projects like “the Starving Children of Coal Country, the Limbless Families of the Tellusia Swamps, the Tongueless Women of Botu and the Rhythmless Amateur Dancers of Hackensack, New Jersey.”
So if you’re sick of the real U.S. presidential campaign by now, take heart. You can have a lot of fun by reading about this fictional one.