Primary Colors

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 448

The satirical best-selling novel about a Clinton-esque presidential campaign is engaging but ultimately disappointing. PRIMARY COLORS’ popularity seems more a result of the author’s desire to remain anonymous than the novel’s Washington, D.C. insider insights. In fact, the controversy over the author’s identity, subsequent unmasking of NEWSWEEK journalist Joe Klein as the writer, and resulting media attention are more fascinating than the novel itself.

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Its first-person exploration of decisions, challenges, and calamities confronting presidential candidate Jack Stanton during a cut-throat primary campaign starts with enthusiasm and good intentions, echoing those of idealistic young aide Henry Burton. Full of keen observations and scandalous events, the novel provides a peek into the world of political strategists, with their pithy verbal shorthand making it a fun read.

As the campaign evolves, Henry finds Stanton’s steel-spined and brilliant wife Susan as impressive as her charismatic but duplicitous husband. He also becomes involved with media consultant Daisy Green as the campaign ship tries to stay afloat despite smears from opponents and news-grabbing events.

Henry’s sympathetic voice overshadows PRIMARY COLORS’ primary weakness, however: the familiar storyline echoing his growing frustration with the arcane process of selecting a national leader from men who may be our best and brightest but are all too human. It seems inevitable that Stanton’s foibles and peccadilloes become thorns in Henry’s side as he is disillusioned by his hero.

Politics as competition and the grueling impact of the campaign process on even the most honorable of leaders becomes the story’s momentum as well as the emotional laser beam that slices Henry’s idealism. He finally accepts that integrity is more important to him than winning as Stanton declares he wants to do incredible things and needs Henry’s support. While readers may wish Stanton and other political leaders could indeed do...

(The entire section contains 448 words.)

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Primary Colors, Joe Klein