Taft and Sinclair — 2 novels

Some variation of the old “Rip Van Wrinkle” idea is played out by a couple of novels I’ve read recently.  One feeds off the repeating assassinations of Upton Sinclair, the other runs William Howard Taft for President in 2012.

The Upton Sinclair book is highly recommended; the Taft one less so.

Something about the book rings false.  Can I accuse the story of being pestered with contrived plot devices?  The Independent Congresswoman Rachel Taft.  How did that come about?  Granted, William Howard Taft is a forgotten President, and granted forgotten Presidents are better remembered than Historically Important Senators, but … we do know that Taft’s son, Robert, looms large in the Senate echelon, and in the history of Conservative Republican Politics.  (Though, a bit like William Howard Taft, it would be interesting to focus on what this means in a linear history; both politicians get a little bit more complicated than that.)  The most recent iteration of the Tafts in politics — Ohio governor — crashed and burned off of corruption charges — which is a far cry from the stolid character of the most recent iteration in this book, Rachel Taft.  Do these historical details just get in the way of telling a story such that they just have to be thrown asunder?

Your other plot device … Apparently Citizen Kane in this book’s narrative was originally set to concern William Randolph Hearst, but was changed by the now somewhat obscure Orson Welles to William Howard Taft due to political pressures.  This gives Taft things to sign in the 21st century, and your irony of the reluctant President’s most public imprint being a fictionalized megalomaniac.  Before the Public goes on to use him as an empty vessel, and re-interprets his record into modern times according to their individual political beliefs and biases.

So that’s Jason Heller’s “Taft: 2012″.  The concept’s there, but it falters — feels oddly didactic.  But it’s a quick enough read, so go ahead.  Also has a neat website, for what that’s worth.   I wonder if some of my problems wouldn’t be solved if the figure that came back to life wasn’t, like, Chester Arthur instead.

Chris Bachelder’s “US” avoids such problems.  And, now that I think about it, it’s probably a more inspired premise which can’t get too bogged down in making points about electoral politics.  Just make some fun at the earnestness of Upton Sinclair, and create “in a world” where Upton Sinclair springs back to death after getting killed — and in such a world it would naturally follow that a sub-culture would spring up of people perpetually killing him off for politics and hobby.

And there’s your retro-Progressive Era politics in fiction for you.

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