Powertown: A Novel

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Only a few blocks beyond the brilliant marble monuments, only a few steps behind the most powerful of Washington's elite, a whole, nearly hidden world exists - a world where high-profile fixers reign supreme while low-level bureaucrats jockey for Beltway "McJobs" and the city's impoverished slide further into squalor. Powertown follows a range of characters separated by endless differences and yet connected by the most spidery of threads - a lobbyist, a programmer for NPR, a journalist, a drug czar's flunky, a ...
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Overview

Only a few blocks beyond the brilliant marble monuments, only a few steps behind the most powerful of Washington's elite, a whole, nearly hidden world exists - a world where high-profile fixers reign supreme while low-level bureaucrats jockey for Beltway "McJobs" and the city's impoverished slide further into squalor. Powertown follows a range of characters separated by endless differences and yet connected by the most spidery of threads - a lobbyist, a programmer for NPR, a journalist, a drug czar's flunky, a private security guard, a Salvadoran maid, and a teenage gangsta - as they are borne along a shifting and potentially calamitous current until their destinies converge in a shocking flare-up of violence.
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Editorial Reviews

Dwight Garner

Michael Lind is a talented polemicist -- the pundit who coined the "overclass" label -- who has worked on both sides of the political fence. Lind toiled for George Bush's State Department and William F. Buckley before converting (very publicly) to liberalism in his 1995 book The Next American Nation. Now a staff writer at The New Yorker, the prolific Lind not only has another political tract, Up From Conservatism (Free Press), in the stores, but he's issued a first novel he hopes will become the Primary Colors of the fall election season.

This isn't going to happen. As fiction, Powertown is surprisingly soft-boiled and muddled. An overachiever, Lind attempts to pack far too many disconnected characters (gay lobbyists, illegal immigrants, gangbangers, sexy journalists, Vietnam vets) and subplots into far too compact a novel. None of these strivers are particularly memorable; none of the multiple plots grabs you by the lapels. Powertown feels like fiction written by a committee.

More specifically, Powertown feels like fiction written by a man with a tiny partisan Devil planted on each shoulder. When the neo-conservative Devil is whispering in Lind's ear, Powertown actually has some wicked, insiderish charm. Lind writes tartly about the couples who "will wear power clothes and own power cars. They will have power children and send them to power schools. They will have a power dog and a power cat." He also has a nice ear for Washington neologisms. Thus, a white homeboy is a "wigger"; former government officials spotted at parties are "wuzzenees" (as in, "Wuzzenee somebody in the Nixon administration?"); and the young recipients of patronage jobs are "heir heads." Further, Lind gets off some nice barbs in the direction of National Public Radio, and at a Ted Kennedy-like senator whose "breath smelled like a ransacked honky tonk."

It's when Lind turns away from the inside-the-beltway power games -- that is, when the neo-liberal Devil has his ear -- that Powertown becomes almost unbearably earnest and sentimental. Lind has filled his book with noble but hoary stereotypes, characters he has absolutely no feel for: the sweet young black kid who joins a gang; the illegal immigrant mother who is threatened with deportation unless she performs oral sex for her landlord; the honest black cop who quits the crooked police force. Lind's punditry may have profited from his political conversion; thus far, his fiction hasn't. -- Salon

Kirkus Reviews
A torpid, episodic novel set in Washington, D.C., by first- timer Lind (The Next American Nation, 1995), a neocon top player and former editor at The New Republic.

The story, which lacks any very satisfying focus or sense of place, tracks the lives of a half dozen or so remarkably unappealing characters trying to make their way in America's capital city. The upwardly mobile lineup includes Ross Drummond, a homosexual lobbyist with sufficient political finesse routinely to earn a six-figure income, and his sometime lover, Avery Breckenridge, a well-off black who works as a booker for National Public Radio. Drummond's protégée, Stephanie Schonfeld, a Heartland-er without much direction and currently employed as a junior writer at Perspective (a TNR-like publication owned by an Aussie media magnate), becomes romantically involved with Bruce Brandt, a budding careerist whose first berth out of grad school is as a lower-echelon aide to the federal bureaucracy's publicity- minded drug czarina. The District's have-nots are represented by, among others, Graciela Herrera, a desperately poor Salvadoran in the country illegally with her two children, and Evander Johnson, an apprentice drug dealer whose uncle, Curtis Hawkins (an ex-cop working as a security guard), fears that he'll come to a swift, violent end. Evander is indeed shot to death on the ghetto's mean streets, but not before impregnating a teenage girlfriend. The hapless Graciela perishes in a fire, and Curtis is suspended from his job for administering a well-deserved beating to a drunken Avery. Dumped by Bruce, who takes up with her best friend, Stef gets a consolation prize, the editorship of Perspective, after securing the last interview given by a Clark Clifford clone before he commits suicide.

By Lind's not very gracefully rendered account, Washington is a town lacking pity, depth—or interest.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060175108
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/1/1996
  • Edition description: 1st ed
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 79
  • Product dimensions: 6.53 (w) x 9.58 (h) x 1.11 (d)

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