I for one love Tom Clancy’s timely saga about a US President controlled by the Kremlin caught in a web of propagandised lies and prostitution. Wait, what?
The thing that made both the novel and film adaptation of The Hunt for Red October a success was that aside from its tight pacing and fluid narrative, it was a cracking good yarn, and believable. While the notion that a veteran Soviet naval commander would commandeer his state-of-the-art nuclear submarine with the intention of defecting to Cold War-era America was far-fetched, Clancy’s prose (and director John McTiernan’s subsequent cinematic adaptation) allowed the reader/viewer to suspend disbelief and get caught up in the cold-as-steel machinations and super masculine back-and-forth between the Soviet alpha Marko Ramius and his US counterpart Jack Ryan. You don’t believe that it happened, but it’s fun enough and believable enough that you figure, post-conclusion, that it could have happened.
The flaws that extend from Clancy’s newest outing are that there is nothing in it that is even remotely believable, to the severe detriment of the plot. Even the minor details are comically far-fetched.
The plot, as it is, is bafflingly stupid. The backstory shows that a braggadocios property developer and – for the love of Jeff – former reality television star, who spends his campaign for the Presidency of the United States saying and doing the most outlandish things, not only wins a substantial victory in the electoral college, but does so against a former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State.
(It should be noted that to add a caveat against blatant partisanship, Clancy adds the tasty plot nugget of the losing candidate getting nearly three million more votes, but still losing. The man sorely needs an editor or fact checker, someone with the first notion of history.)
Clancy’s main villain, it turns out, is this most unlikely of commanders in chief, a man who seemed to run for the highest office in the land out of some desire to place himself in a better negotiating position with his TV network to get more money for his returning celebrity-themed TV game show.
Clancy really tests the boundaries of good taste with this character. Apparent footage of the candidate involved in steamy, urine-soaked escapades with prostitutes in Moscow is as lurid as it is milquetoast.
This, by the way, is not Clancy’s attempt at satire, but serious “real politik” in the form of a thriller narrative.
Still with me? Well, it turns out that Clancy’s not quite done. Having won the election, the candidate violates any number of conventions and constitutional provisions before he’s even taken office. His unlikely victory occurred despite actual audio and video tapes being released of him saying the most heinous, sexually predatory things, essentially bragging about sexually assaulting women (“I grab ’em by the pussy,” the character says, in one of Clancy’s poorest dialogue exchanges).
Vast arrays of archived TV chat show footage depict this apparent lunatic wanting to seemingly bed his very fetching adult daughter. Clancy really tests the boundaries of good taste with this character.
The book’s main plot thread, which it seems to take forever to begin, concerns a convoluted scheme by operatives inside the Kremlin (the Russian president is presented here as the most cartoonish of Bond villains, a former KGB operative with a 1,000-yard dead-eyed stare) to use elaborate hacking efforts and propaganda systems to sway and influence the outcome of the election, and have the president-elect the virtual puppet of his Russian overlord – a plot contrivance involving apparent footage of the candidate, pre-politics, being involved in steamy, urine-soaked escapades with prostitutes in Moscow is as lurid as it is milquetoast.
If Clancy wasn’t phoning it in enough by this stage, he introduces a clichéd British spy character into the mix, who leaks (pardon the pun) the sordid details of these incriminating encounters to the press, replete with factual and grammatical errors.
The spy’s name, in case we were not quite done with the hackneyed laundry list?
You read it right: British spy, Christopher Steele, and I will personally give you a dollar if you didn’t say that in your mind with a bad Connery accent.
Yes, he’s an analogy for Hitler, we get it. But, so dumbed down they don’t seem to notice they elected a fascist lunatic to the White House, his apparent key demographic is too numbed by all of this to pay attention.
The window dressing of this piece is also more distracting, the work is in desperate need of an editor. Everything the president-elect says throughout his campaign is contradicted by everything else he says, and people he openly insults, including their wives and family members, end up campaigning for him and endorsing his obscene candidacy. When you think you’ve had enough, it turns out that the man he is succeeding was the first African-American president, a popular figure so beloved that he is replaced by what Clancy presents as an unconvincing white nationalist.
It’s literally the stuff of bad fiction.
I’m convinced Tom Clancy has lost the plot. Not a moment in this entire, seemingly endless tome seems the slightest bit believable, and by the time you get to the Russian hookers and the golden showers, you’d be hard-pressed to care if it was true or not. Nothing is surprising by the time the inauguration comes around: he could whip his todger out onto the Bible and tell the Chief Justice to “swear on that!” and it wouldn’t come as any kind of surprise.
Yes, he’s an analogy for Hitler, we get it. But part of Clancy’s problem is that he takes so long to get where he’s going: that the population is so dumbed down by reality television and celebrity that they don’t seem to notice that they elected a fascist lunatic to the White House is written in such a fanciful, farcical and far-fetched manner that nobody with an ounce of sense will take a word of it seriously; his apparent key demographic is too numbed by all of this to pay attention.
Terrible business this.