Imagine the U.S. Congress inflamed by upcoming elections when a string of unexpected events occurs: a sitting president resigns to go fishing, and two members of Congress cannot continue their campaigns. One aide, assigned to monitor a dingbat crusade for universal daylight savings time, vaults to the front lines as a candidate, while another aide's conscientious striving gets him within sneezing distance of a candidacy for himself. This is an extravagantly funny entry into the ranks of the Washington novel by a Clinton administration staffer. Silent on Whitewater and Lewinsky, he nevertheless reels through current sagas such as the story of the 114-year-old senator and the grisly death (with a tip of the hat to Carl Hiassen's Miami riffs) of Florida's senator. One of the sweet subtleties is Ehrlich's successful delivery of the traditional message of hope about the wacky but working American system of government, even as his nonstop silly-season stuff provokes tears of laughter. For all public libraries.--Barbara Conaty, Library of Congress, Falls Church, VA
Absurdist farce about Congressional aides whose zeal, stupidity, and occasional flashes of insight take on great significance in an out-of-control Beltway bureaucracy. Idealistic Lenny Keeler joins the staff of Pennsylvania Congressman Ezra Wheezlebut only after he's enlivened Wheezle's boring speech by jumping into a river to save a girl from drowning. Meanwhile, airhead Dickie Vanderholz, an inept academic who holds a Ph.D. in volcanos, becomes an irresistible political force when, as a useless researcher on a senatorial committee, he begins a crusade to make daylight savings time a permanent, year-round affair. Miriam Moskowitz, Vanderholz's cynical supervisor, rival, and, finally, swooning lover, discovers that a passionately advocated single issue understood by no one, such as the equipment-that-does-not-work tax credit, can pitch a washed-up hack like Wheezle into the Oval Office. With a nod to the paranoid paradoxes of Heller's classic Catch-22, first-novelist Ehrlich's Capitol characters appear as the victims of a vast, incomprehensibly foolish anthill of craven ambition and blatant greed. The only winners here are people like handsome, vacuous President Wade F. Hoak, who, after realizing that 'making history is interesting work, but, the fact is, we all can't be Nixons,' happily quits after his third year in office, in exchange for a $50-million going-away present from his wealthy backers. Included among the denizens helped, or hurt, by Ehrlich's trio of plucky slaves are tough-talking House Speaker Rollo Plank, a 114-year-old Idaho congressman, and TV preacher Colonel Cody Clark, a smarmy faith healer of spiritually delinquent bodies, souls, and stock portfolios.A beguiling satire of Washington's wacky ways and means that, for all its dead-on delights, lacks bite. Funny, but featherweight.