You graduate from Harvard Law, serve for 10 years as the President of the Environmental Law Institute, become dean of a law school (American), serve on committees for the ABA and the National Academy of Sciences, and become partner at a large K Street law firm (McKenna, Long, and Aldridge), ...so, what's the next beast to conquer?
Politics, of course. That's why Randolph Anderson is running in the 2012 race to become the junior senator from Washington DC.
Wait, that doesn't sound right at all.
Randolph Anderson is getting mixed up in politics in a completely different capacity, publishing Falling Together, a novel set in the midst of the 2012 GOP presidential primary campaign. It goes from the 2011 holiday season and in to the early GOP primaries, following two characters. The first is Ralph, a southern Republican presidential hopeful, who on the outside looks a lot like who you'd imagine when polls pit Obama against "a Republican to be named at a later date." The other is his son in law, Denny, a liberal yankee, who was an Obama devout four years earlier, but is having second thoughts about Mr. Hopey Changey.
Anderson has side-stepped the traditional publishing route, which would have pushed the release of his novel back into the early months of President Paul's first term (hey, one can always dream). Instead, he went a semi-DIY route, foregoing the marketing powers that come with the traditional route, and instead relying on word of mouth and the good graces of folks whom the ABA Journal has described as "one of the only two legal bloggers of any influence." (Maybe paraphrasing just a bit there.) Got a gift card for Christmas and you're not sure how to spend it? Paperback and Kindle editions are available on Amazon.
Falling Together is what you might call advocacy literature; there's no doubt that Anderson is promoting a particular view of the political landscape, and it does have its Lifetime Movie of the Week moment. That will be a turnoff to many readers, as it should be. But, Falling Together is redeemed by having interesting characters and intelligent writing, something you don't see a whole lot of these days, especially from a first-time novelist.
It's rather hard to say whether you should read it or not. It's a novel, so you won't be getting the dirty laundry of an exposé, and it's unlikely to make you change your political allegiance. But, you're also not going to toss it out the window halfway through, because it isn't really bad in any way. Well, there are a couple times wher the narration goes from third person to a first person monologue, which is a little confusing, and some italics would have cleared things up pretty nicely, but that's about the biggest complaint it gets.
If you're a political junkie, definitely check it out, you'll enjoy it, and the rest of us will enjoy the several hours you spend quietly reading it. For the rest of us, Falling Together may be more interesting as a historical artifact than as a novel. The book makes its points about politics, but the book itself is a comment on politics. What does it say about our government and political system that this person has written this book at this time?
Well, when you want answers, you go straight to the source. I had the chance to ask Randolph Anderson some questions about Falling Together, though the above question wasn't one of them, because it came to me after the fact. You'll have to figure out that answer on your own.
Here's the conversation we did have.
BL1Y: Falling Together takes place a little bit in the recent past, and a bit in the near future, but is basically set in the "right now." The plot also involves, mostly on the periphery, quite a few real life people doing historically accurate things. Was it an issue at all deciding what liberties to take, deciding which events in your novel take place exactly as they did in real life, and which are bent to fit your characters in?
RA: It was hard deciding what to "copy" from history, which events and characters to create, and especially what liberties to take with existing public figures by putting words and actions into to their fictional avatars. The first draft danced around without using any names of known public figures, but that turned into a massive roman a clef. With a crowd of he-who-must-not-be-named's, it got pretty silly. My solution, as you know, was to invent actions and dialogue for known persons, Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Obama, and so on, but to compose characters the more they bore on the plot.
The greatest risk I took was setting the plot in the glorified here and now. I saw the risks but went ahead anyway. My trickiest problem might not be so obvious now, only a few months later -- it was getting the primary dates settled! Verisimilitude required me to guess, and guess right. I nailed it, but it could have been a train wreck to the plot if I had used dates that Iowa, New Hampshire, Florida, Nevada, and South Carolina toyed with as late as September. It gives me a waking nightmare just recalling it.
Most novels set in the future go far enough out to limit the risks, or they build around ideas that once the future arrives, the book maintains interest. Ian McEwan, for example, set A Child in Time in the future at the time he wrote. Yet his book is very readable today. Some great books set well in the future, however, did not wear as well, for example, 1984 and Brave, New World, although they had a huge contemporaneous impact.
BL1Y: For most of the book, I thought the two main characters, Ralph and Denny, were complete jerks. And, I enjoyed that there was no clear protagonist and antagonist. [I'm not spoiling anything, because I haven't decided whether or not I still think they're complete jerks, so all I've spoiled is that stuff happens halfway through, which you knew already, because it's a novel.] Am I reading this right? Did you intend for both of the characters to come across as less-than-likeable?
RA: Ralph and Denny complete jerks? Did you really think so? Well... that must mean you at least liked Jean, in some ways an endearingly unlikable person herself. As the book grew, yes, I also saw Ralph and Denny become less likable. Ralph was hugely unlikable in the beginning when I started to write; Denny, not so. But I hope you found them unlikable only until you got inside their heads and saw them evolve....
[BL1Y: Yes, you do see the characters evolve. But, if you're a cynic like me, you're probably still going to think they're jerks. That doesn't mean they're poorly written, quite the opposite. They're rather realistic.]
BL1Y: A bit of a followup to that question, did you relate more to either of the characters? Was there one who you were secretly rooting for, or maybe one you relate to a bit more?
RA: No, I don't think I did secretly root for one or the other, or relate more to the one than the other -- in the end, they grow, they become different people by going through a lot, and I did root for them to become different -- because each found things that I think matter to becoming a person, and a nation, in full.
BL1Y: You're a partner at a large K Street law firm, so you've almost certainly seen more inside the political system than the rest of us. Were there any particular interactions with that culture, attorney-client privilege notwithstanding, that worked their way into the novel? Obviously being around that culture will have had its influences on your political views, but are any of the events in the novel based directly on things from your person life?
RA: Yes, in a general sense, situations and meetings in the novel do reflect my experience and my "ear" for the kind of talk one hears in intimate sessions. Two of the three major political figures -- Gary Hart [Democratic Senator from Colorado, 1975-1985], Joe Andrew [DNC Chairman, 1999-2001] -- said that I got it right, which is reassuring.
The library in the first part of the book? It exists in the home of a very wealthy person I know, right down to the wormholes and the scotch. One of Denny's circle is so closely modeled on a person who exists in the Washington world that I expect a call one day.... Interestingly enough, my experience in corporate client contexts did not help give Falling Together a more authentic tone.
BL1Y: Falling Together, with it's focus so much on the current GOP primaries, doesn't have too much of a shelf life. I imagine you don't expect there to be much interest in the book two or four years from now. You're also going the DIY publishing route, which means extremely limited marketing, so you're not expecting to substantially increase your income with it. My take is that you want its message out there more than you care about making any sort of money from it. If that's right, why not simply give it away, as one does an academic article on SSRN? Or set the e-book price somewhere south of $3?
RA: Your question spills a cornucopia of little questions to pick up one by one. First, I do hope that the book will have a long "shelf life" as a novel of ideas. To a future reader, Falling Together doesn't have to be a whodunit, with the culprit exposed by the national convention next summer. You might go back to the Epilogue and reconsider your question.... Second, I really had no choice with this particular novel but to quasi-self-publish; the publishers I know told me they need eighteen months lead time, and that of course was impossible for this particular story. That said, your are right, I would rather be read than bought, to coin a phrase. Third, I could not give the book away: the pricing was set at the lowest Amazon would allow under the arrangement I had with their subsidiary, Create Space.
[BL1Y: To be fair, I did go back to the epilogue. The ideas themselves have plenty of future potential. But, in four years, how many of you would be at all interested in a novel set in the 2012 GOP primaries?]
BL1Y: Jon Huntsman, who you reference a few times rather positively, he has a strong domestic record, more foreign policy experience than the Aleutian Islands, a better record than the other candidates when it comes to telling the truth and avoiding spin, he doesn't sound crazy when he talks, and he's damned handsome to boot. Why do you think he isn't doing better in the polls?
RA: Your praise of Huntsman is accurate -- the problem is, he has no constituency among the political people who vet candidates before more reasonable people get a chance to express themselves. Have you ever been to a gathering of rabid state-level campaign activists of either party? Not a pretty sight. I think my characters address this issue over and over, for example, the refining of "individualism," "liberty," and other concepts on the left and right until they are so pure they are corrupted. Madison's antidote does not seem strong enough to counteract modern faction, and we certainly haven't found one yet.
BL1Y: Creative arts are always a bit tricky, you're putting yourself out there, saying "I think this is pretty good art I've created here." For a learned professional, I must imagine this can be even more complicated. Were you at all worried about the response from your friends and colleagues, or from the profession and clients at large?
RA: I think I was worried about repercussions, but only in the beginning. At first I tried to hide deep in the background and to assume a completely opaque pen name, Neman Alter. But in the end I liked my characters as they ended up and am proud to associate with them. If they think thoughts -- and, God knows, they do a lot of thinking -- that my colleagues or others find offensive, then I'd like to hear from them, and try to use my characters to engage them. This has already happened with a good friend way over on the left, who wanted Denny to be more of a mensch, a friend offended by my passing reference to a lacrosse team's misbehavior, an NGO leader who.... but, enough said.
BL1Y: This is something I have to ask on behalf of the members of the Lost Generation, though not specifically for myself. Your firm website says there are currently no job openings in any of its US offices. Social media gurus and career adviser types insist that companies don't always advertise job openings. Are there secret, unadvertised job openings there?
RA: To my knowledge, there are no secret job openings at our law firm.