Friday, December 11, 2009

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C., by Robert J. Hensler, is a novel that I wouldn't ordinarily read, so I'm counting it as a Critical Monkey contest entry. What compelled me to read it? It was found in a rented beach house, and it wasn't even my beach house. FreshHell mailed it to me; it was almost like a dare to read the whole thing.

Published in 1977, this novel, Washington, D.C., has everything. Power! Sex! Sixties-style revolutionaries who want to blow everything up but are too inept!

The power guy is a senator from Connecticut who thinks he can make the world better by exposing corruption in government. He also wears bell-bottom pants. Readers can guess that at the end of the novel, he'll emerge a sadder and wiser man. When he goes to a party full of political movers and shakers, the hostess greets him:
"Oh Royce," she gushed expansively, "it's so chic to have a real folk hero at one of my parties."

The sex is called "balling" by both men and women. It occurs only between the revolutionaries or the politically corrupt. But don't worry, there are plenty of those, and it's very explicit. The anatomical terms are all correct.

The leader of the inept sixties-style revolutionaries is Leo Phast, a really hep cat who despises almost everyone:
"These kids. Talking revolution. As if revolution was something you talked about. It was more than simple semantics, his mind raced. It was something you did. Revolution was something that took hold of you and filled your mind and body with elation. That force, that letting yourself do it, that was the God-head speaking. Right to you. In terms that your body could understand. Not just your mind."

The writing, wooden throughout, occasionally plunges to this level:
"Sims walked to the parking lot behind Martin's office on Oakleaf Drive in Silver, Spring, Maryland, a short drive from metropolitan Washington. He found his car key in his pocket, opened the Mercedes' door, and slid into the seat. The car was hot, and Sims started the engine and the air conditioner immediately."

Another pleasure of the mid-1970's setting is the up-to-the-minute use of slang:
"Back at the kitchen table, she opened the Herald and turned immediately to Madison Bock's column. Sure enough, she thought to herself as she read, the bum had gigged Lynn."

In the end, Royce, the honest politician, tells his wife that she can't leave him because "I have my plans. I have my career. And you have yours. Your job is being my wife. Being with me. Being mother to Jess and Adam." And there is, finally, some pleasure for me in this novel, in imagining his wife remembering this speech years later, especially the part where he tells her "I have to get in there and hustle my ass off, just to be able to say I'm a man. That's what this Linde affair was all about. And that's what nineteen seventy-six will be about." Okay, maybe so, fella, but it's nice to think that, like the cigarette commercial from your day prophesied, "you've come a long way, baby!"

I'll pass this book on to anyone who's a glutton for punishment--a genuine discard from the 70's that wasn't worth taking home after a beach trip and hasn't been read since.


14 comments:

Lass said...

Oh, I have to read this. And I will happily pass it on to anyone else who wants it.

Jeanne said...

Okay, Lass, the book is in the mail. I wish you joy of it. Anyone else who wants it, leave a comment for The Lass (her link is on my sidebar under "Friends of Carlotta") so she can pass it on.

Amanda said...

I think I'll pass on this one...yeah.

FreshHell said...

Awesome! I'm so glad D.C. will live on! Now, to look up "gigged"....

Also, we're probably going to rent a different house next year which means a whole new slew of books! Stay tuned!

Florinda said...

I'm glad someone claimed this one already. I don't think I'd want to read it, but I appreciate that you did - and gave us this hilarious review :-).

lemming said...

Already read my bad book for teh year, possibly even for the decade, no need for another right now - but thanks for the smile.

Cschu said...

I agree that this was a hilarious review. Now I don't need to read the book to be able to make fun of it!

Lori L said...

He he he...What a great choice for a Critical Monkey book! It sounds like it was truly awful.

Jodie said...

Your review made me giggle, sometime the best way to show how ridiculous a book is is just to quote parts of it. Who needs snark when you have the actual text to do your work for you?

Jeanne said...

Jodie, exactly. Hoist by its own petard!

Corey Redekop said...

Ooch. Some books are better left undiscovered.

Scrat said...

Great review! I think I will avoid this like the swine flu!

Eric Hensler said...

This book was written by my father, Robert J. Hensler, who, believe it or not was a brilliant man and student of nearly everything. From Jewish traditions to Sailing to Gypsy culture... Well, you get the idea. I am NOT going to try to defend this silliness. You see, under various names, he supported our little family in the sixties by writing full-on porn. He was later approached by his rather dubious publisher, Jay Garon Brook, to write "something political" and since my father knew nothing of politics, this is what he got. It actually did quite well, amazingly enough. I am currently working on editing his history of the radio business in the first half of the twentieth century. This subject he knew quite well. He left the Air Force (Honorably) right at the tail-end of the Korean conflict. He had escaped combat when a sergeant of some kind caught an eyeful of his letter-writing skills. He thus spent the duration of the conflict on Guam as a clerk to various officers, making them look smarter with his writing. In 1964, along with Jeffrey Kraus and Edward Dibutera, he founded WHCH, Hofstra University's ground-breaking radio station. It almost immediately became WVCH in case you know it better by those call-letters. From there he got his BA in Journalism from Hofstra and worked at countless radio stations up and down the Eastern Seaboard and from coast to coast. There were dozens of them (at a minimum) so I've got my work cut out for me. Anyway, the book, should I ever finish putting it together, will be available (probably) on Amazon Kindle for a few bucks. He suffers from Alzheimer's now (he is 82) but will still I'm sure receive much pleasure from knowing that people read something that he is actually proud to have written rather than this swill. He also devoted much of his time to publishing local poets in the Central Florida area throughout the eighties and nineties. I just wanted to post this to shed a little light on the "monkey" behind this execrable book. One never knows who they will find behind such things...

Jeanne said...

Thanks, Eric! I'm glad to know more of the story behind the book found in a beach house.