From Publishers Weekly
Author, columnist and National Review founder Buckley offers a sentimental bildungsroman about a young man's initiation into the mid-century American conservative movement. In 1956, a 19-year-old Mormon missionary, Woodroe Raynor, is assigned to fieldwork in Austria, near the Hungarian border. He loses his virginity to a Hungarian woman and is wounded as he watches Russian tanks quell the Hungarian uprising. The bullet wound is nothing, however, compared to the psychic pain of learning that his paramour is a Communist sympathizer. Woodroe later attends Princeton and begins working for the John Birch Society. He has a love affair with an Ayn Rand acolyte, leading to some heady epistolary debates about whether Rand or Birch Society founder Robert Welch is better prepared to eradicate Communism. Rand is unmasked (yet again) as a sexually and intellectually manipulative egomaniac, and the wisdom of the National Review and its staff is affirmed regularly. Vivid historical passages about the Cuban missile crisis and the Kennedy assassination, as well as cameo appearances by John Dos Passos and Alan Greenspan, are a welcome diversion from the mostly stilted prose (a sex scene between Rand and a lover is described this way: "Today her lover was being welcomed with synaesthetical concern for all the senses.... But as he lay and later groaned with writhing and release, he brought the full force of his mind to transmuted, voluptarian elation in this physical union..."). Between the self-congratulatory tone and the flat characters, the novel will appeal primarily to Buckley's devoted fans.
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It's become a truism that the groundwork for GOP success since
1980 was laid in the 1950s and in the 1964 Goldwater presidential campaign. Buckley himself was a player then--part of what this historical novel's characters label "the National Review
crowd"--but that group is absent here. Instead, Buckley focuses on two of the conservative movement's more controversial elements: the fervently anti-Communist John Birch Society and Ayn Rand's "objectivism." Woodroe (Woody) Raynor witnesses (and is shot in) the 1956 Hungarian Revolution while doing Mormon missionary work across the border in Austria. He returns to attend Princeton and becomes a Birch Society operative on graduation. At the founding meeting of the Young Americans for Freedom (at Buckley's mother's Connecticut estate), Woody meets Leonora Goldstein, an acolyte in "the Collective" surrounding Ayn Rand. Through the eyes of these committed young conservatives, the reader examines Birchers and Randians and witnesses key events: the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, the Cuban missile crisis, JFK's assassination, the Warren Commission's deliberations, the 1964 presidential campaign, and growing U.S. military involvement in Vietnam. In a sense, this novel is "triumphalist" history: Buckley's crowd largely won the 1960s battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Expect his latest novel to appeal most powerfully to readers whose political attitudes match those of National Review
. Mary CarrollCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved