Q Clearance

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Assigned to preparations of insignificant proclamations and toasts, speechwriter Timothy Burnham secures the confidence of President Benjamin T. Winslow through a series of accidents and misunderstandings. He soon becomes Special Assistant to the President for Perspective, earning the immediate envy of Cabinet officers and the enmity of Mario Epstein, Winslow’s Special Assistant-gatekeeper.

By chance, wastepaper out of Burnham’s office falls into the hands of Foster Pym, a Russian agent eager to remain in the United States; Pym enlists his daughter Eva to cultivate and to spy on Burnham. Burnham is separated from his wife and falls in love with Eva. At the White House, he rescues President Winslow from unwise commitments to a mad Indonesian dictator. He then defuses a diplomatic crisis off Cuba involving a transvestite charter-boat captain and exacerbated by English-to-Spanish-to-English mistranslations.

Security checks on Eva Pym provide the jealous Epstein with the ammunition to depose Burnham, but Eva confesses to Burnham, who concocts a daring scheme to counteract rumors that have by now been leaked to ABC News.

Himself a onetime speechwriter to Lyndon Johnson, Benchley--best known as the author of JAWS--paints President Winslow in the outrageous colors of Johnson’s unbuttoned manner. While Benchley’s plot twists are sometimes flimsy, as in Burnham’s separation from his Georgetown wife, they serve to underline the absurdities of Winslow’s White House, a closed society where pecking orders and perks inflate egos to buoyant heights.

The reader may conclude that humor, after all, is the wisest approach to the intricacies of Washington politics.