Scorched Earth, by Stuart Stevens, Seattle Times

Entertainment & the Arts: Sunday, February 05, 1995

”Scorched Earth”

By Mark Lindquist
Special to The Seattle Times

War, Ernest Hemingway once observed, is the best drama. War without guns is called politics and it is – or ought to be – a close second for dramatic value. Stuart Stevens’ new novel, “Scorched Earth,” has all the conflict, intrigue, high stakes and barely contained nuttiness that rings of true politics.

The hero is Matt Bonney, a James Carville-like consultant who is hired to elect the half-Polish, Elvis-loving governor of an unnamed Southern state to the U.S. Senate. Problem is, the governor is running against Congressman Luke Bonney – Matt’s brother. This being a contemporary campaign, and a Southern one at that, the mud is slung to new heights: The governor accuses the congressman of sleeping with three black transvestites; the congressman’s heterosexuality is defended by claims that he’s sleeping with his brother’s wife. The reader is given no better idea of what is true or half-true or blatantly false than you would get from a real political campaign.

Author Stevens is a UCLA film school graduate whose work includes writing the opening episode of the quirky television series, “Northern Exposure.” He’s also a successful political consultant whose savvy observations make “Scorched Earth” fast and hilarious.

However, politics – like anything else that verges on self-parody – can be a shaky source for satire. I found myself thinking that our times are begging for a literary attack on politics along the lines of Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 classic, “All the King’s Men.” In the meantime, Stevens offers the best-informed contemporary political novel you will likely find.