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38 of 51 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Adequately written, but tiresomely cruel., May 4, 2012
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This review is from: Patriots (Kindle Edition)
In this review, I'm going to briefly compare and contrast two Davids who have each "crossed paths", one by moving to the right; the other, to the left. I'll then discuss Patriots in more detail.

Frum's Patriots is an over-the-top satire of Frum's views of the contemporary US Republican (and Conservative) movement. Just as talented playwright David Mamet has lurched to the right in recent years, Frum, a former speech-writer for George W. Bush, has lurched to the left.

The Mamet/Frum comparison is, I think, not entirely inapt. Both have chosen to examine what they each have viewed as the unravelling of American Culture. Mamet is unquestionably a better writer, though I tend to think Frum has a little more gravitas as a popular intellectual. Indeed, Frum's awkwardly titled (2000) book, How We Got Here: The 70's: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life -- For Better or Worse, is a clever and thoughtful look at the damaging [in Frum's view at the time] effects of the 1970's on America.

Mamet's first work of political non-fiction, The Secret Knowledge (2011) comes off as far more anecdotal, and somewhat angrier than Frum's best work (How We Got Here). This isn't to disparage Mamet's The Secret Knowledge (2011), but if I had to pick one book about the unravelling of American Culture from an intelligent conservative perspective, I'd probably pick Frum's 2000 work.

On fiction? No contest. Mamet, whether as a liberal or conservative, beats Frum hands down. Is that a fair comparison, though? Perhaps not. Some context though, for anyone who wishes to judge what my own biases and thoughts might be.

So: Patriots. An engaging book? Surprisingly, yes. Frum is a reasonably talented writer, and though Patriots falls short of his best work, he does have the excuse that his narrator is introduced as a lazy and unreliable scion of great wealth. There are one or two moments in editing, but no more (and perhaps fewer) than the typical well-produced book of today from a major publisher, and nothing indefensible.

Endless observations of food, wine and clothing come off as tiresome and superficial, but to give Frum credit, I think that is exactly his intent, though at times this is used as a tedious weapon to excoriate other characters, almost invariably conservatives.

Ignoring the political context, it's a passable, though unexceptional novel featuring an arc (or several) of failure, and one of redemption. Nothing revolutionary here, and certainly not as interesting as the 1959 Washington political novel, Advise and Consent, by Allen Drury.

And here we have a problem. If we snip out the politics, this is fairly dull stuff.

What of the politics? Frum, wisely, possibly on the advice of libel lawyers, or as a Harvard (1987) J.D., has veiled everyone in thinly disguised pseudonyms. It's not difficult to tell who Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Malkin, Andrew Breitbart and James Taranto are, but, yes, technically, they have different names. On that point, Taranto needs to get a better agent; he seems to come off as repetitive and hackish rather than (like the rest) frothingly vile in Frum's view.

And indeed these characters are uniformly frothing-at-the-mouth tiresome lunatics. "Ah!" I hear a liberal reader saying. "But that's exactly what those people are". Let's assume that's true for just a moment (I don't believe it is, but let's assume it). A book about such thinly sketched characters, unless you're buying it to feed into your own ideological pre-judgements, is... well... awfully tiresome.

A good character, especially the villain of the piece, should be well sketched. There should be a reason why the character is malign. We should be able to sympathize with the character and see him, or her as a human being, a man in full, with all the complexities that entails. Indeed, it's often best that unless the villain is a sociopath, he or she should convincingly believe that he or she is fighting for a righteous cause.

Frum executes this almost not at all. He has a brief revealing moment from a later employer of the protagonist that what the "Constitutionalist" (aka Republican) party is doing is just fine because it's what the "Nationalist" (i.e., Democratic) party used to do to them.

Apart from this rather jejune playground rationale, virtually all of Frum's conservative characters are cardboard caricatures, tiresome in their similarity. They love fancy food, free booze, surround themselves with token minorities, love trashing anyone in their way, and seem to have no other interests in life.

It's possible all of Frum's former friends and coworkers are like this. I think it highly unlikely, but even if it's true, it makes for terribly dull reading.

It also says something about Frum, if true.

Ultimately I admit to some bias. Frum loses a star in his astonishingly cruel and petty portrayal of conservative women, minorities, and the recently deceased.

It's not just lazy writing, it's cruel, and in enjoying other aspects of his first novel I feel sadly diminished given that cruelty and that pettiness.

Do I recommend you buy this? No. If you want to buy a Frum book, buy his work on the 1970's. Or go read anything -- anything at all -- by David Mamet.

Full disclosure: I do not and have not worked in government, politics, lobbying or any connected field, and I've never worked with Frum. I have exchanged one or two polite emails with him in the past -- when he worked for National Review -- and I think he is an insightful and intelligent man. I once, bizarrely, had lunch with his sister, a Canadian Senator (there were six others at the table though).
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Showing 1-10 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: May 5, 2012 10:59:59 AM PDT
Bird woman says:
Holmwood: Thanks for your review. I'm still deciding whether I will buy this book. It may or may not be worth reading, but your review certainly was.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2012 2:40:45 PM PDT
M. Heath says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on May 5, 2012 5:17:45 PM PDT
Bird woman says:
I've never met the man, and it was silly of you to say that.

In reply to an earlier post on May 5, 2012 10:14:31 PM PDT
Holmwood says:
@Julie thanks for the kind comment. I was debating on whether or not to write the kind of review I did; your comment makes me glad I did.

@M. Heath Frum's wife is Danielle Crittenden. Believe me, if Ms. Crittenden were to be foolish enough to post here as a sock puppet, she'd be far more critical of my review than Julie's kind response. I doubt she is that foolish, and she certainly is not Julie.

As I've said, I think Frum descends to petty and cruel one-dimensional stereotypes of people in his book. No argument with you there M. Heath. A few will like that, but I'd like to think most on the left have more taste, and less desire to live in a tedious echo-chamber. Perhaps I live in a dream world, but I'd like to think not, especially here on Amazon with relatively erudite and thoughtful people posting.

@Julie, in deciding whether or not to buy, I'd recommend reading the first (10 or so) chapters which have been serialized on Huffington Post. I admit that's what persuaded me to buy; I felt he descended further to cruel and petty caricatures towards the end of the book, so I'll warn you of that. For me, he went beyond the pale in crudely characterizing a minority woman and someone who is now deceased; if I were a person from Mars with no knowledge of Earth, I'd simply view it as poor characterization rather than petty and cruel and it wouldn't have troubled me as much.

It's a pity they aren't yet available on Kindle, or I'd recommend Allen Drury's Advise and Consent series. Still, if you don't mind dead tree books, these would be a lot better value for your money as long as you don't start with anything Drury wrote in the 1970's (I think these 70's books can be his weakest works, ironically for much the same reason as I think this is a weak work for Frum -- caricatures of political opponents.) You could pick up Advise and Consent in dead tree form either from Amazon or the Amazon subsidiary Abebooks for less than Frum's Patriots!

Whatever you decide, enjoy, and thanks for your response.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 12:03:49 AM PDT
M. Heath says:
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Posted on May 6, 2012 12:24:58 AM PDT
M. Heath says:
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In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 12:30:22 AM PDT
M. Heath says:
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In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 1:18:34 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 6, 2012 2:20:50 AM PDT
Holmwood says:
@M. Heath, whoa! I get that you and Julie (or Julia, in your middle post -- slip from the recent Barack Obama composite Julia?) Have been battering at one another through a few threads here. Could I respectfully ask you to refrain from doing so in this thread, please.

I don't think she was complimenting me to attack you. Unless, of course, she were your ex-wife, which would make it quite likely. If she's just some other Amazon reviewer, then... really?

Permit me to gently remonstrate with you. You have done, imo, what a lot of people do when a new Ann Coulter book comes out. Written a highly negative review, based on your knowledge and preconceptions (and other reviews) ... without having read the book in question. The fact that you admit to having done so is certainly to your credit.

When liberals do that to Coulter, they diminish themselves. I respectfully put it to you that your posts here are diminishing yourself in precisely that manner. There is no need to psychoanalyze Frum in order to review this book. The book stands as a work, and there is plenty to critique without examining Frum's motives or rationales.

You raise the question as to whether or not some of the reviews are from Frum's friends... meh. Maybe. He'd be an idiot if he hadn't sent out copies to friends and asked them to honestly review it. For me, Zac gets a pass for mentioning L. Neil Smith (albeit kind of negatively). But no, I don't think this site is flooded with fake reviews. A couple of the reviewers may be friends of Frum; I don't perceive anyone as acting dishonestly.

On the sex scenes: I'll refrain from White Knighting and not ask you why you raised them in at least two threads to Julie. From my male perspective, Frum writes surprisingly clever, very brief chiaroscuro sex scenes that ultimately make one think of a decent conservative definition of marriage. (as one character specifically advocates late in the book). They are not a major part of the book, and they definitely won't get anyone excited, but they are surprisingly well executed, given Frum's background. Hot? No.

Sex scenes notwithstanding, I still don't recommend the novel. Go read Mamet, Frum's 70's book, or Allen Drury's Advise and Consent.

** Edit ** The other thing: if you're really concerned about Fake Frumsters popping up, ask them politely. Don't say "Are you David Frum's wife?" But say "Pardon me, what is your connection, if any, with David Frum?". Anyone operating in Washington will know the danger of lying about a connection when the Amazon Cloud tracks so much. Ask politely.

Posted on May 6, 2012 6:30:21 AM PDT
Bird woman says:
1) I don't know Frum, or anyone who has reviewed his book.
2) My comment about Holmwood's review was sincere, and had nothing to do with you, Heath. Everything is NOT about you.
3) Holmwood - I read Advise and Consent when it first came out. I found it interesting, though somewhat biased. I might read it again; I've found these old books can seem very different after so many years. In the interim, I did spend a few years working in politics in Washington DC. That tends to change your perspective.

In reply to an earlier post on May 6, 2012 2:18:26 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on May 6, 2012 2:28:21 PM PDT
M. Heath says:
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