Before Getting to ‘This Town,’ Take a Spin With Jeffrey Frank
“This Town,” the literary takedown of self-important Washington by New York Times chief national correspondent Mark Leibovich, is set for official release one week from today, and those not privy to advance copies are panting in anticipation.
Reviewers have weighed in over the past few days, and their verdict is quite satisfied. Several years of pent-up rage and disgust seem to have manifested a sort of collective primal wail, with writers throwing in their own two cents about how spot-on Leibovich is. Some have thrown in for good measure lazy insults about Washington’s culinary culture, such as in David M. Shribman’s New York Times review.
In the intervening days before the book’s release, though, it’s worth checking in with some of the books of Jeffrey Frank, whose acid-penned novels witheringly satirize previous generations of Washington. They are good not just for a laugh, but as a reminder that Washington has always had its share of self-important politicians, journalists and strivers.
In 2004’s “Bad Publicity,” for instance, Frank writes about the last year of the Reagan administration, when the town prepares for what many are sure will be a Dukakis White House. “The Institute, close to Dupont Circle, was populated by people that the world had lost track of, such as a former deputy secretary of state, two doors down from Hank, and a former budget analyst across the hall,” Frank writes of Hank Morriday, an expert on welfare reform who works a place that sounds a lot like the Brookings Institution and is certain he’s ready for the all-but-certain Democratic new wave.
Frank’s 2001 “The Columnist” is the fictional memoir of columnist Brandon Sladder, whose self-importance knows no end. “One morning, I went to a bracing session on Vietnam in the Old Executive Officer Building, a discussion that touched on secret plans that could lead to many deaths. I was honored to be included … at one point, I leaned toward an important military source and, sotto voce, said, ‘It sounds as if you still believe there is light at the end of that tunnel.’ The veteran produced a weary smile and said, ‘All I know is that I have to keep digging in order to find out.’ Afterward, I wrote down this little exchange, for his words excited me.”
So enjoy “This Town.” It sounds like a hoot, and I’m certainly looking forward to it. But in the meantime, don’t lose track that disgust with Washington didn’t begin with Tammy Haddad’s brunches.