The Pequod Review:
Lucky Bastard, Charles McCarry's ninth novel, imagines a Russian plot to install a sleeper president into the White House. Their target is John Fitzgerald Adams, a charming, sex-driven and vacuous politician. With the aid of the KGB, Adams works his way up the political ladder, starting as a prosecutor in his home state of Ohio and eventually rising to become president. (“The American people in their mystical wisdom had lifted up this sociopath, this liar, this rapist, this hollow man beloved by lunatics and traitors, and made him the most powerful human being in the world.”)
McCarry is a great writer. Here he introduces Adams and his childhood friend Danny Miller:
An author I admire has written that "the great loves of men's lives are usually other men." He was not talking about homoerotic love, which like other passions of the flesh is haunted by suspicion and shame and is likely to end suddenly and badly, but about lifelong friendship, that exalted form of love -- free of doubt, jealousy, and resentment -- for which the currently fashionable term is male bonding. Friendship resembles other kinds of love in one respect only: As in all other couplings, there is always the one who loves and the one who permits himself to be loved.
In the case of Danny Miller and Jack Adams -- the most extreme example of lifelong friendship I have ever encountered -- it was Danny who chose Jack, and everyone who knew them as children agrees that this happened very early in life, even before the boys could talk.
The book suffers from the fact that Adams is too obviously a fictionalized (and cliched) hybrid of Bill Clinton and JFK. And McCarry's conservative politics are often transparent and trite:
After that, my target in America, the campus antiwar movement, should have been easy. It was a soft target, in no way frightening or difficult, but I had made little progress. After a year of close observation I had concluded that the counterculture was not composed of serious people. Their rallies were just another form of entertainment, their slogans another kind of cheerleading. Their movement had no ideological core, no vanguard elite, no discipline. It was make-believe, a game, a holiday, a new kind of fraternity party. Combat boots instead of white bucks, drugs instead of beer, but the objectives were the same -- sex and intoxication. The true revolutionary makes revolution to escape from the inescapable. In America, nothing is inescapable. These children knew they could escape any time they wished simply by going home again, by acknowledging the reality of money and choosing it. American capitalism would roll over them like the irresistible ocean that it is.
Virtually everything Charles McCarry writes is worth reading, but Lucky Bastard is a bit too polemical and agenda-driven to rank with his best novels.