hungry loner who cannot imagine life outside the White House.
Then, just as the political pressure to accept Terry Fallon reaches a crescendo, President Baker discovers some chilling reasons why Fallon should not be a heartbeat away from the red button. But is Fallon a pawn in someone else’s game, or the ultimate chess master? And who was the primary target that day at the press conference? Through it all, Joe Mancuso emerges as the real hero, if there is one: his youthful idealism long ago extinguished, Mancuso doggedly slogs on after the truth. He’s the ultimate little guy as hero, and readers will like him.
Of course, Favorite Son is fiction. Its kinship to actual events, however, makes it seem uncomfortably real and hauntingly possible,
And now for something completely different, as they used to say on “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.” The segue to Cuts by Malcolm Bradbury (Harper & Row, $10.95) is a natural one, for this novel riotously satirizes the television business through the antics of a bungling British television production company, Eldorado Television. The setting for Cuts is Britain, summer of 1986, and the watchword in Margaret Thatcher’s England is cuts-deep reductions in almost all government programs: “They were incising heavy industry, they were slicing steel. . . they were axing the arts, slimming the sciences, cutting inflation and the external services of the BBC. . .They were chopping at the schools, hewing away at the universities, scissoring at the health service, sculpting the hospitals…”
In the midst of this new austerity, the bloated budgets of Eldorado Television come under scrutiny. The company’s franchise is up for renewal, and the Thatcherite slashers have let it be known that Eldorado is no sacred cow. To ward off the cuts (and hang on to his forty-floor office building with its well-stocked wine cellar). Eldorado’s Lord Mellow is counting on his upcoming series, “Gladstone. Man of Empire.” That idea fizzles when Sir Luke Triming-ham. the grand old man of serious British television, refuses to play Gladstone nude and strumming the ukulele before Queen Victoria, Desperate, Lord Mellow scraps “Gladstone” and orders his staff, on pain of losing their expense accounts, to come up with a blockbuster. He demands something new-no more decline of a great English family, no more sprawling country houses, no more End of Empire. And that, he insists, will take a new writer with a new vision: “Find me someone new and original. Who delivers scripts on time and isn’t off on a yacht with Bertolucci when you need him for rewrites. Someone who has epic sweep but doesn’t think that means writing in millions of pounds on doing the whole of the Retreat from Moscow.”
Unfortunately, the new criteria eliminate all the writers known to Eldorado, and they eventually find themselves stuck with one Henry Babbacombe, author of some of the more obscure novels in recent English literature. Babbacombe has his quirks- among them an aversion to plot, dialogue, and character. When an interviewer asks what his latest book is about, Henry replies: “About? I’m not sure there’s an about about for a book to be actually about… I’m afraid I doubt the existence of an external reality.”
But why should a little quibble over the existence of external reality get in the way of a money-making series? Naturally, Henry is chosen to do the script. Following a new trend, Lord Mellow orders shooting to start before the scripts are done. A title is chosen-’Serious Damage’-and the worker bees of Eldorado hum into action, scouting locations, building sets, designing costumes, writing songs, borrowing planes from the military, spending millions-all without knowing, or caring, what Henry writes. Lord Mellow has more innovations up his sleeve. On this project, rewrites are to be done first, before original scripts are written. Henry soon discovers that the only way to get one of his esoteric ideas into the script is to write the opposite of what he wants, since any scene written for daytime in London is rapidly converted into a nighttime scene in Paris, and vice versa.
Cuts, the latest in the excellent Harper Short Novel Series, is wicked satire, pricking the pretensions of an industry that spends the gross national product of many a small nation on gossamer nonsense fit for the sixth-grade mind. Bradbury’s novel is darkened by the insubstantiality of Henry’s character; his credo as “artist” cannot stand up to the seductions of multi-vino lunches and shapely gofers, and before long he is pulled into the vacuum of the television wasteland. If good satire instructs while it destroys, Cuts is a black-humor bombshell aimed at the one-eyed ruler of the living room.
Finally, Nebraska by George Whitmore(Grove Press, $15.95) is that rare bookwhose subject matter is upsetting, evenrepellent, but whose technical geniusmakes it hard to dismiss. In the lateFifties, Craig, twelve, has his leg amputated after he is hit by a truck. In his family, that qualifies as a minor problem. Craig’sfather, a hellion turned religious zealot, hasabandoned the family. His callous sister tellshim to “be prepared to die.” Only UncleWayne, home from the Navy, brings life tothe claustrophobic house. Then, bizarrely,Craig helps to convict Wayne on falsecharges of child molesting. Fourteen yearslater the two meet in San Francisco, whereCraig learns the awful consequences of hisyouthful mistake. Nebraska is as bleak asthe high plains in November, but impossibleto put down.