Politics As Fiction

One Hell of a Candidate is, pardon the expression, one helluva book. From the first page–when you meet Congressman “Buzzer” LeGrand–to the last, when you learn the surprise ending (no peeking), you will find yourself reading this book straight through.

Buzzer, an erstwhile gun-toting sheriff, is the central character of the book. We quickly learn how he won election over Ricky Bobby Diddie in a squeaker. Buzzer is no tower of intelligence, but he is cunning. He rose from a wrong-side-of-the-tracks childhood to marry the daughter of the town magnate.

Beyond Buzzer, One Hell of a Candidate is studded with fascinating characters: the dazzling athlete who has come home to run for Congress; the long-suffering congressional wife (with the not-so-secret fondness for Merlot); the “character” campaign manager who studiously affects the look and manner of a foul-mouthed slob; the overbearing owner of a chain of Big Box stores; the radical feminist; the underworld dwarf; the ambitious blond speechwriter; the zealot who is sure the path to heaven runs through Capitol Hill–and more.

The central event is an unexpected special election. The climactic event is a candidate debate. Chances are, you have sat through (or watched on television) more than one campaign debate that seemed designed to bore you stiff. This one will keep you fully alert. The debate in One Hell of a Candidate will make all memories of past boredom vanish. For action, there has never been one like this.

The campaign takes place in a congressional district that is, vaguely, in Texas, Arkansas or Oklahoma.

Author William Gavin has seen many a campaign come and go. A native of Jersey City when it was all rough and tough (his first book was Street Corner Conservative), he was for many years chief writer and issues man for former Republican House Minority Leader Bob Michel (Ill.) and Sen. James L. Buckley (C.-R.N.Y.) He also wrote for Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Gavin has an eye for the hilarious unpredictability of political campaigning, so that the sequence of amazing events he describes seems to come naturally, if unexpectedly. Yet, with each, the reader wonders what can possibly come next.

At first, One Hell of a Candidate leads the reader to believe that the book is all farce. Buzzer, for example, is both larger than life–and death. As the book progresses, however, other themes emerge. Long-submerged emotions and the talents of two of the characters come to the surface.

For one, there is a fall from grace, and redemption. One family’s world ends in tragedy. And, as the author ties up all the loose ends, several other characters come to endings that are fitting, if ironic.

This is author Gavin’s first novel. One comes away from this one wondering how he can top this, but hoping that he can and will with the next one.