Jackstraw is the perfect tonic for this election year of our discontent. Tired of worrying (or hoping) an obscenely rich populist presidential candidate will upset our traditional two-party system by running on a third-party ticket? Watch through a rifle scope in vicarious delight (or horror) as obscenely rich populist presidential candidate Hamilton Keyes's head explodes on a dais next to his drop-dead gorgeous running mate who has already taken a bullet just beneath her magnificent bosom and is lying crumpled at his feet the moment his candidacy comes to its abrupt conclusion in a tiny fictitious Latin American “republic.”
The person actually looking through the rifle scope when this happens is Thomas “Jack” Jackstraw, a soldier of fortune looking to make a last big score with an eye toward taking the loot and slipping into obscure retirement. We are with Jackstraw when he pulls the trigger, and we watch with him as Rachel Leah Valentine collapses after the bullet strikes her chest. He then sees another bullet, not his, turn her running mate's head into a pinkish cloud.
Jackstraw has presumed his assignment to fake the assassination of Rachel Leah Valentine, whom he'd fitted with body armor ahead of time, is a set up. He figures he's marked to be killed afterward as a patsy. Earlier he had helped capture four U.S. missionaries whose release the U.S. candidates had “negotiated” to boost the popularity back home of their American Patriotic Party. He knows too much.
He had a plan to elude the police waiting for him in the building from which he'd shot the vice presidential candidate. He had not anticipated the second shot, the killing shot, fired from a room adjoining his and forcing him to improvise his escape. After breaking into the next room and killing the police and real assassin there, he unbands the $250,000 cash downpayment for his services and dumps the loose bills out the fourth-story window into a swirling breeze to distract the crowd that had gathered to see the U.S. candidates. In the ensuing hullabalooo we make it to safety. But Jackstraw, the novel, is far from over.
The first-person narrative Ron Faust uses in this final entry to his fifteen-novel oeuvre works counter-intuitively well in distancing us from Faust himself. Thomas Jackstraw gives us opinions on such as personality, politics, government, and morality that in lesser writers are apt to come across as a virtually transparent veil for his or her personal outlook. I attribute this distance to Faust's artistry in creating a character so intimately believable we find ourselves merging with Jackstraw's sensibility. We forget he's really Ron Faust.
Not that we know much about Ron Faust. The most interesting thing—the only thing--besides his writing? He pitched minor league baseball in Louisiana a couple of seasons. Born in Illinois, 1936; died in Wisconsin, 2011. No obituary. The guy was more elusive than Pynchon or Salinger. More puzzling, his work went largely unknown despite being compared by critics to Hemingway, John D. MacDonald, Hunter S. Thompson and Peter Matthiessen. Scott Turow, bestselling author of Presumed Innocent, said of Faust: "A writer of enormous talent, a stylist to admire and a storyteller of great power."
Dumbfounded that although I'm a Wisconsin native and work as a writer, I first learned of Ron Faust only two years ago on Ben Boulden's Gravetapping blog.
Jackstraw wasn't published until two years after Faust's death at age 75. This makes me wonder if he'd had trouble finding a publisher. The idea such might have been the case saddens me. Makes me angry. The novel is too damned good to be deemed unmarketable by any publisher, and we know marketability trumps all other considerations these days. No grey area there.
Yet, had Faust hung on five more years he might have had his first bestseller with Jackstraw. I think you would agree, if you've been following the ongoing White House scramble these days and are as frustrated, disappointed, and angered as I get almost daily as each new unimaginable revelation plays out on the Internet. Here's some perspective from Jackstraw:
It seemed to me that she had easily won the debate, but to the political reporters she was glib, facile, reckless, uninformed—a "loose cannon." The media corps seemed to uniformly despise Rachel and the APP, and could scarcely conceal their scorn for her supporters. They deliberately antagonized her. It was a daily game of let's-see-if-we-can-make-the-candidate-lose-it. Rachel fought back in her cool, ironic style, and won over some viewers enraged at how the commentators ganged up on her.
When a male TV journalist asked her if she opposed homosexual relationships, she replied: "For you, no; for me, yes."
Another reporter wondered how she, a single woman for so many years, satisfied her physical urges. Rachel said, "Some physical urges I suppress, like now—I'm not going to slap your face." Then she smiled, which allowed her to get away with such a comment.
"People say you're too sharp-tongued," a female reporter said. "People say you're too pointy-headed," Rachel replied.
A political opponent was quoted as saying that if Rachel Leah Valentine were elected president the country would soon be at war or, "God forbid, in an economic depression."
"It sounds," Rachel told reporters, "like he's more afraid of losing his money than losing his life.”
But eventually the scandals, the semi-substantiated rumors, the constant attacks by the media and political opponents began to erode her support. The APP's poll numbers dropped—down to 19 percent of the electorate, 17 percent, 14 . . . Rachel, evidently accepting defeat at last, became anarchic and cheerfully vituperative.
She called both print and broadcast journalists"corporate lickspittles." She said she had never met a journalist or news anchor who wasn't an intellectual and social parvenu. As for free speech in America, Rachel asserted that you got what you paid for. She said that the big corporations and the Republicrats were united in opposing anyone or anything that threatened to interfere in their private monopoly game with America's wealth. She said that her political opponents knew that if you lie down with dogs you'll get up with fleas . . . but if you lie down for the Corporate State you'll get up with money. She said that the multi-national corporations—with their media lackeys—and the Republicrat politicians together operated the world's biggest whorehouse, and the citizen had only to ask whether he was going to be screwed fore or aft.
Wait...didn't I just read that on Huffpost?
[for more Friday's Forgotten Books see the listing on Patti Abbott's unforgettable blog]