Updike's fifteenth novel is a comic mixture of history and fiction. The title is a joke because the narrator cannot remember anything about the presidency of Gerald Ford. He is supposed to write about it for an Association of American Historians, but his report instead is a mixture of personal history and a biography of James Buchanan. The narrator is a professor of history at Wayward Junior College in New Hampshire, and his midlife crisis of separation from his wife is played out against Nixon's resignation and Ford's interregnum. The contemporary political history, however, goes almost entirely unobserved. The narrator is completely distracted by his personal dilemma, and his professional report, designed by Updike to be the text of the novel, reads like an academic parody.
The marital crisis preoccupying the narrator is a chance for Updike to explore once again his favorite themes of adultery, betrayal, and the moral confusion of romantic desire. By setting the story in the mid 1970s, Updike allows the action to resonate with the social and political disintegration of the time. And by including biographical sections on James Buchanan, Updike is able to compare a twentieth-century story with a romantic crisis in the life of the man who became America's president on the eve of the Civil War. Thus contemporary events are foreshadowed by political divisions in the previous century, and both parts of the novel show an intersection of private and public...
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