The horror at the heart of Al Gore's utopia.
Aug 17, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 45 • By JON L. BREEN
The main focus is how the United States can reach an agreement to save the world with China, not an easy task. A China analyst tells Benton, "There is no Chinese government, there's only the party. There is no party, there are only factions. Sometimes there aren't even factions, but only individuals." A Chinese-American State Department employee notes that while Benton and other presidents, in addressing major international issues, "think of something outside your own narrow partisan agenda," Chinese leaders consider only what will keep them in power, and consider their own situations more important than the good of their people.
America's allies object to Benton's decision to deal directly with the Chinese, and a principal issue is when, if ever, unilateralism is an appropriate stance for a president of the United States, or for any world leader. The liberal Benton is taken aback when his own daughter compares him to George W. Bush.
There are occasional humorous touches, though precious few. When the British prime minister takes a private walk around Camp David with the new president, it is the PM who suggests the route: He's been there several times before, and Benton is there for the first time. When the president decides late in the evening that he wants to go to church the next day, his wife points out what organizational problems he's created for some poor Secret Service supervisor and advises him to decide earlier next time.
All that is publicly revealed about first-time novelist Matthew Glass is that he is an Englishman writing under a pseudonym. Like British actors who can channel a note-perfect American accent, many British novelists now write a persuasive American idiom. The only clues I could find to Glass's nationality were his use of "meant to" where an American would say "supposed to," and a very odd attempt at a baseball metaphor: "Do you want to get out in the park, or would you rather stay in the dugout?"
There are other lapses in editing and proofreading. In addition to the surname Benton, we have two characters (one major, one minor) plus a candidate for appointment mentioned in passing with the forename Ben. And how did a sentence like "He almost physically threw up" escape the blue pencil? Ultimatum would make a good feature film, or better yet a TV miniseries, where skilled actors and a screenwriter capable of sharp dialogue could breathe life into these somewhat flat characters. But until that happens, readers willing to look past ideological and literary standards will find this print version surprisingly rewarding.
Jon L. Breen is the author, most recently, of Probable Claus.