News & Politics

The Columnist

Journalist’s “deliciously vicious satire” of Washington.

 Near the end of Jeffrey Frank’s debut novel, The Columnist, the daughter of a prominent Washington hostess says at her mother’s funeral: “The best thing I ever did was to move away from this rotten city, and the worst thing my mother did was to stay here.”

 Judging by Frank’s deliciously vicious satire, that’s pretty much the author’s opinion. Frank is a former Washington Star and Washington Post editor who’s escaped to New York—and the New Yorker.

The Columnist is fictional political scribe Brandon Sladder’s memoir, an attempt to ensure his place in history that goes hilariously awry. Sladder—perhaps the most rivetingly loathsome character since Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt—is a pompous, nakedly ambitious cad who has stomped on just about everyone in his race to get ahead. He even uses his insurance-agent father’s confidential records for a story—which gets his father fired, working in a grocery store, and refusing to speak to his son.

 At least as much fun is the guessing game about the real-life models for these characters. Sladder wears a bow tie and has a penchant for baseball metaphors—George Will? But then there’s Sladder’s Sidney Blumenthal-ish habit of praising in print speeches he secretly wrote himself. Literary editor Lionel Heftihed—is that Leon Wieseltier? You’ll see pieces of all sorts of celebrities in the book. Start to worry, though, if you see yourself.

Jeffrey Frank

Simon & Schuster