William Safire's columns in The New York Times occasionally sound like crank calls from a pun-crazed gag writer. He does have a weakness for word games. He also expresses outrageous opinions, sometimes persuasive and always provocative, even when wit dims his meaning. Safire is a gaudy flame on display in a gray museum, so every spectator pays attention.
Now comes Safire the novelist who is a compelling figure too. Improbable, occasionally offensive, but genuinely entertaining. The novelist has suppressed the polemical excesses of the columnist, though he still can't resist the aroma of a warm pun.
"Time wounds all heels," one character observes. The reader gulps. "I thought I heard a presidential seal bark," says another character. The reader thinks there is a fly in his soup.
Safire is not playing for cheap laughs, however. This is a serious Washington "what-if" novel, and given the limits of that genre, it is an entertaining story, sustained by marvelous plot complications and a feast of semi-believable character types. The mechanics are handled so adroitly, one admires the fictional house that Safire has built.
William Greider, "William Safire Strikes It Rich," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), June 19, 1977, p. K 1.