“Well the news, so-called……”
I’m not a big fan of going back and rereading novels I’ve previously read; the exceptions being a few books that I read during my brief stint in college that I’ve returned to for the simple pleasures of their company shorn of the expectation of a paper written late Thursday night, due on Friday. This is not to say that I won’t take another run at Gatsby or several short stories (in particular, Cynthia Ozick’s The Shawl, Cheever’s The Enormous Radio, Tobias Wolff’s In The Garden Of The North American Martyrs, and Alice Eliott Dark’s In The Gloaming come to mind) if the mood strikes me. There are too many books I have yet to read (as Tebow as my witness I will get to John dos Passos’ USA trilogy one day, I swear) and far too little time.
Having said that, I recently unburdened the house of several hundred books, shuffling them down to friends living in a enclave of American expats living the mañana life down Ensenada way. While picking and sorting through the stacks I found an old copy of Robert Stone’s A Hall Of Mirrors which I read some thirty-plus years ago when I was much younger and wiser than the person I am today. I’m back into it again and, given our current state of affairs, it’s worth a read for the sheer prescience of the whole thing.
In a nutshell, it’s the story of unemployed musician who drifts into New Orleans and takes a job as a radio DJ where, between spinning the platters (as they used to say) he mixes “news” with demagoguery, thinly veiled racism, patriotic bombast, and old timey Christian hate of the poor and ‘other’ at the behest of the station owner who has motives of his own involving a Tea Party-esque “Patriotic Revival”.
From Ivan Gold’s 1967 NY Times review:
Stone gives us Rheinhardt, a clarinetist once touched with genius, turned drinker and drifter and arriving in New Orleans as the story begins; a 24-year-old Geraldine, prideful, cynical child of the gutters, also come to make a new beginning, with a fresh scar down her face inflicted by and in the state of Texas; Morgan Rainey, “God’s Skunk” as Rheinhardt calls him, literally stinking of virtue and the festering spiritual wounds which make meaningful action impossible; and perhaps a half-dozen relatively minor creations, deeply and lovingly etched.
In New Orleans, Rheinhardt is in a terrible way rehabilitated, selling his marketable skills to a far- right-radio station (WUSA), where he puts together the highly selective, highly inflammatory news broadcasts, and disc-jockeys a pop music show; Rainey’s shriveling sense of mission is somewhat rejuvenated when he learns that the welfare survey among poverty-stricken Negroes in which he is engaged masks a plot to deprive them of even this pittance; and Geraldine, not quite cynical enough, invests a little more in Rheinhardt than he is able or willing to return. An anti-Negro, anti- Commie, anti-Mind (“PATRIOTIC REVIVAL”) rally sponsored by the radio station, in which every shade of political kookdom is represented, and which ends in audience-participating holocaust, finishes off the principals, one way or another, and closes out the book.
Bogdanovich, one of the Greek chorus of teaheads who sit around commenting more or less widely but always with high humor on the action, tells Rheinhardt a story. Bogdanovich works in a launderette. One night, after he has closed up and turned on, a blue-eyed Negro breaks in and tries to rob the machines. Sympathetic, because the machines contain so little, our man offers to lend him two dollars. The Negro giggles, smiles broadly, and tries to kill him. Bogdanovich fights him off with a box of Tide. He is saddened by the experience.
“Well, you can’t save the world that way, Bogdanovich,” Rheinhardt said. “I don’t have to tell you that.”
“Save it!” Bogdanovich said. “You can’t even talk to it. You can’t even hail the son of a bitch.”
If Roger Ailes was in a book club with the Koch brothers, Dick Armey, Rush Limbaugh, and dead Andrew Breitbart this would be their favorite book.