Laura Beers

Washington, Meg Greenfield's posthumously published memoir, offers a behind-the-scenes look at life inside the Beltway. Though styled as a memoir, Washington is organized thematically rather than chronologically and except for a brief discussion of Greenfield's childhood in Seattle (the other Washington) and her early 20s spent as a self-described "bohemian" in New York the book is almost entirely set in the nation's capital. Greenfield, a reporter in Washington from 1971 until her death in 1999 and editor of the Washington Post op-ed page from 1979 onward, managed to live and work in the insular world of politicians and pundits without loosing her sense of proportion or her notorious sense of humor. She was known inside and outside the Beltway for her unique ability to identify the absurdities of politics and to laugh at them a skill repeatedly on display in this book.

Washington opens with a quotation from the British poet William Blake: "Princes appear to me to be fools. Houses of Commons and Houses of Lords Appear to me to be fools; they seem to me to be something Else besides Human Life." Greenfield's view of Washington insiders more often than not accords with Blake's view of English aristocrats. In fact, she begins her memoir by drawing a parallel between old England and contemporary Washington where "better-bred, country-house English remains the stylistic model, the affectation of choice." Greenfield directs her sharp-edged wit at the foibles, phoniness and hypocrisy of those around her with hilarious results. She describes her home city as overrun with men and women (mostly men) "who were extremely successful children . . . that whole range of smiling but empty-faced youth leaders who were universally admired, though no one could have told you for exactly what." The implication is that Washington insiders are somehow inhuman, too perfect to be real, or at least exceptionally skilled at feigning perfection. In his afterword, Green- field's literary executor Michael Beschloss writes that the author left behind notes for a final chapter that would have focused more on her life as a child and on her time spent at her summer home in Maine. While the completed manuscript would probably have painted a more well-rounded picture of Greenfield, the finely honed skewering of Beltway life that she did complete is in itself well worth the read.

Laura Beers is a publicity assistant at Oxford University Press.

 

Washington, Meg Greenfield's posthumously published memoir, offers a behind-the-scenes look at life inside the Beltway. Though styled as a memoir, Washington is organized thematically rather than chronologically and except for a brief discussion of Greenfield's childhood in Seattle (the other Washington) and her early 20s spent as a self-described "bohemian" in New York the book […]

Politician-turned-author Raymond Flynn (with the help of novelist Robin Moore) has come out with a book whose cleverness and political timeliness would make even Tom Clancy jealous. In The Accidental Pope, first-time novelist Flynn has spun a smart and entertaining tale of the unlikely election and subsequent rise to fame of the Catholic Church's 265th pope. The timing of this novel about Vatican high politics could hardly be more prescient, coming at a time when Pope John Paul II's failing health has Catholics and non-Catholics alike actively speculating on his possible successor.

This admittedly highly incredible tale takes as its launching point the accidental election by the Council of Cardinals of Billy Kelly a Cape Cod fisherman, a widower and father of four, and a former priest who scandalized his Massachusetts parish by leaving the clergy in order to marry to the highest church office. Kelly accepts the cardinals' peculiar offer and ascends to the papacy as Pope Paul II (the latter day fisherman symbolically takes the papal name of history's most famous fisherman, the church's first pope). It soon becomes clear that Paul II was elected not through accident but through divine provenance, and that it will fall on his shoulders to reform the church in hopes of attracting a new generation of Catholics into the fold. Upon taking office, the new pope almost immediately sets out to resolve many of the questions facing modern Catholicism including such weighty issues as the role of women in the church, the interdict against clerical marriage, the increasingly desperate plight of the Third World and the question of contraception. The fictive American pope's role as a Vatican outsider allows him to bring a refreshing perspective to the debate on these issues.

As former mayor of Boston and U.S. ambassador to the Vatican from 1993-97, Flynn intimately understands both American Catholicism and Vatican politics, and his familiarity with his subject matter comes through in his writing. (Not unsurprisingly, both the U.S. ambassador and the state of Massachusetts receive high praise in Flynn's narrative.) Most of the novel's action takes place in Rome, but the fantastic and fast-paced plot takes the reader from Buzzard's Bay, Massachusetts, to Belfast, Ireland, to Rakai, Uganda, finally returning to the Eternal City where Flynn's amazing story ends on a note that is simultaneously tragic and hopeful.

Laura Beers is assistant literary editor of The New Republic.

 

Politician-turned-author Raymond Flynn (with the help of novelist Robin Moore) has come out with a book whose cleverness and political timeliness would make even Tom Clancy jealous. In The Accidental Pope, first-time novelist Flynn has spun a smart and entertaining tale of the unlikely election and subsequent rise to fame of the Catholic Church's 265th […]

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