November 16, 2005,
Have you ever watched a movie trailer that's amusing, but which also leaves you with the sense that you've just seen all the good parts? Think of what you're reading now as the same sort of thing, except that it covers the bad parts of A Time To Run, the new novel by Barbara Boxer, the liberal Democratic senator from California.
Of course, saying that A Time To Run has a few bad parts really doesn't give Boxer enough credit the whole book is stupendously awful, from the first page to the last. As a service to you, dear reader, I have slogged my way through it, in order to share with you the worst of the worst.
You don't need to know much about the characters or the plot, except that the central figure is a liberal Democratic senator from California (sound familiar?) who must decide how she is going to respond to a Republican Supreme Court nomination. And thus, on the opening pages of A Time To Run, we encounter Boxer's utter lack of imagination:
It had been a particularly intense day in [Senator Ellen Fischer's] D.C. office, with a steady stream of meetings, e-mails, and phone calls from organizations and constituents, all urging her to step up her opposition to Professor Frida Hernandez's nomination to the Supreme Court. There was little time left for any attempt to block the confirmation of the ultra-conservative professor. ... Ellen, a member of the [Judiciary] committee, had sought to challenge the nominee's strongly suspected bias against Roe v. Wade. ... Ellen knew that, once on the Court, Hernandez would help turn back the clock on Court decisions that Ellen believed were vital to the people.
Ultra-conservative? Turn back the clock? Vital to the people? It sounds like a talking-points memo distributed by the DNC, a form of literature that is arguably a sub-genre of fiction. Alas, A Time To Run really is a novel, and before long Boxer describes not only her protagonist's liberal purity but also her good-hearted motives:
That was a defining moment, when Ellen knew how she'd spend the rest of her life that she'd been put here on earth to save its endangered children.
Writing authentic dialogue can be a challenge for even the best authors. Boxer, however, mangles the language in unprecedented ways. In a scene set in 1974, a character who is a student at UC-Berkeley declares:
"She's out pounding the pavement doing good works while you just hang out at home dissing the President."
Question: During the Nixon era, did anybody speak of "dissing" the president?
Here's more motivational blather that manages to combine cliché ("close to her heart") with liberal pablum (a "forum" for discussing "street problems"), in a paragraph that climaxes with a bit of dialogue that is at once dreadful in its own right and entirely typical of A Time To Run:
Town Hall for Kids was a project close to her heart, a planned forum in which young people might meet both with her and with selected public officials to discuss, in safe and neutral surroundings, not just the street problems confronting them every day, such as drugs, gangs, and the proliferation of guns, but ideas on how to make their town a better place to live. "Talk to us!" she'd urge. "Work with us and get involved. Let's find solutions together!"
And now, for the dirty bits the sex scenes! Yes, Senator Boxer has written a few, and not all of them involve humans.
Sex scene #1. It's between people.
Greg's naked body was long and elegant, his embrace enveloped her utterly, and they meshed with ease and grace. He smelled good too, faintly and astringently of aftershave. He was clinging to her as if he'd never let her go, it was all so easy and right.
Sex scene #2. It's between people as well, and once again they "mesh."
The bed was huge and soft with a blue and white comforter. He didn't notice Jane taking her clothes off but suddenly she was naked: long legged, lithe, and bronzed. The sheets were cool, her body warm, her limbs strong and supple, and they meshed with his just as he remembered. "Oh Greg, dearheart," she whispered in his ear, "I've missed you so. Welcome home."
Sex scene #3. Okay, okay, it isn't really about sex. It's about lust. But it's extraordinarily weird. Kneecaps?
Her skirt was very short, and Josh found himself mesmerized by her perfectly shaped, silken legs with kneecaps that reminded him of golden apples he couldn't remember having been captivated by knees before and her lustrous thighs. He tore his eyes away from Bianca's legs with the utmost difficulty.
Sex scene #4. It's between horses. No kidding. No "meshing." (And the first sentence is side-splittingly ungrammatical.)
A ton of finely tuned muscle, hide glistening, the crest of his mane risen in full sexual display, and his neck curved in an exaggerated arch that reminded Greg of a horse he'd seen in an old tapestry in some castle in Europe Jane had dragged him to. The stallion approached, nostrils flared, hooves lifting with delicate precision, the wranglers hanging on grimly. ... The stallion rubbed his nose against the mare's neck and nuzzled her withers. She promptly bit him on the shoulder and, when he attempted to mount, instantly became a plunging devil of teeth and hooves. ... Greg clutched the rails with white knuckles, wondering, as these two fierce animals were coerced into the majestic coupling by at least six people, how foals ever got born in the wild.
In a note at the front of the book, Boxer says that she wrote A Time To Run to describe "the true world of politics in all its glory and all of its ugliness." Even this sentence is a bad one: The phrasing should be either "all of its glory and all of its ugliness" or "all its glory and all its ugliness."
One thing's for sure: Boxer has the ugliness part down pat.
John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the co-author, most recently, of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America's Disastrous Relationship with France He is author of the upcoming A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America..