For a novel with such depth, this is one quick read. The writing is tight, riveting and graphic.
Sacco’s first novel gives just enough plot line interspersed with exposition that you’ll find you’re always saying “just one more page.” This first time I read it, I got through about 30 “just one more pages.” The pace is fast, but there’s tons of depth along the way.
One clever aspect of the novel is its careful interspersing and overlapping of the internal struggles of the main character, Dawson, with his external struggles. The unusual thing is that Dawson isn’t a flat, cookie-cutter protagonist, but a complex man struggling with some past issues as he’s more or less thrust into a position that doesn’t seem terribly unusual at first, but evolves into a major political and military scandal.
I like the fact that Dawson has a past, that he’s trying to be a good ex-husband, father, and boyfriend despite some past failures. Sacco isn’t afraid to create a protagonist with religious conviction (all-too easy to dismiss in modern literature). This protagonist actually goes to church and contemplates the moral justification for his actions, both personally and professionally as an investigator. Sacco cleverly connects Dawson’s personal experiences with the larger political problem of relativism. He accuses the moral climate of a thinly veiled version of the Clinton administration for allowing and even instigating political scandals that – if the truth ever came out – would shock us all.
Sacco’s fictitious president is a thin disguise for Clinton, providing a convenient hedonistic antagonist who personifies all that Dawson is trying not to be: self-serving, focused on immediate gratification, and morally bankrupt.
The novel revolves around the administration’s failure to restrict powerful weapons technology from getting into the hands of Chinese leaders in exchange for money and political influence. The fictional account closely parallels the true events of Clinton’s administration and policies with regard to China, weaving them within a fictional main plot that takes the reader through the contrastingly principled Dawson’s personal struggles with past mistakes and a budding romantic interest.
Sacco is able to fictionalize and clarify an extremely complex series of backdoor political shenanigans. I was impressed with his ability to string together so many and disparate events and show how they were all effects of a misguided political agenda. Although he takes some artistic liberties with dates, events and people, his account is remarkably accurate and comprehensible. Many characters are composites, and other extenuating circumstances are conveniently omitted (that’s the privilege of fiction, it allows us to focus on only what is of consequence and ignore all the tangential, daily clutter that may or may not be relevant). He comes down hard on the administration and exposes it for what it was: a lot of self-indulgent, shortsighted opportunists who raided the system for their political, monetary … gain.
The book is scathing in its rebuke of what Sacco sees as the moral relativism of the administration, and its implication that character does count when you are at the helm of the world’s greatest super power.
Really, it’s one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in the past couple years. There’s just enough action to keep you intrigued and just enough political subtext to keep you outraged. One warning: you’ll need to think -about the character of those who we elect to high office, about self-serving political agendas, about moral relativism – but not so much that it ruins the adventure along the way.