Every Man a King
© 1989 Bill Kauffman
Every Man is a King follows the self-destruction and resurrection of one John Huey Long, a rising star in DC’s intellectual establishment who disgraced himself in a heated television interview. Fired and friendless, Ketchum slunk back to the rathole hometown he thought he’d escaped, planning to die – but instead, he found a new life. One part DC satire, one part homage to crappy hometowns, Every Man a King makes for an odd novel. Its mocking of politicians, the media, and pseudo-intellectuals has easy appeal, of course, and one of the characters is winsomely weird. (Imagine Phillip Seymour Hoffman as an obese fop who wears 1940s suits, carries a cane as a transparent affectation, and who is incapable of not sounding like a 19th century dandy.) I liked the general arc of the novel, the tale of a pretentious jerk being taken and realizing there’s more to life than DC power plays, that real people still live in places that don’t matter to those in government. And Kauffman should be praised for not making this localist defense sentimental in the least: the town Ketchum returns to has been left behind by everyone else, and most of the people are poor, drunk, and angry instead of poor-but-happy farmers enjoying their simple lives far from the big city blues. Most of the action happens in Ketchum’s heart and mind, though, as he slowly realizes what a empty charade life in DC had been anyway, and what a boob he’d become — a man corrupting the memory of his populist grandfather, turning the elder into a fount of folksy proverbs just to add a little flavor to his columns. Life in Batavia is ridiculous, too, but at least it’s real. Even so, a story of largely internal musing doesn’t have a great deal of activity: Ketchum even manages to avoid barfights despite spending most of his time post DC sitting in one. On the whole the novel was too vulgar and too sedentary for my taste.
Too bad that you found the book kind of not to your tastes. Sometimes books with several good elements just does not jell. The fact that, as you describe it, the book avoids some cliches about small towns is a good thing.
if it was a better book, it might be made required reading for government employees…
I'm a great fan of Kauffman's nonfiction work…I suppose it's telling that he's never tried another novel. His screenplay adaptation of Harold Frederic's “Copperhead” was excellent, though.
Oh, I could keep them busy with required reading!