Washington reporters awaken early and sneak off to quiet basements in Alexandria and Chevy Chase. They retreat to A-frames in the West Virginia mountains or cottages on the Eastern Shore of Maryland on weekends. They steal from their sleep and from their vacation days in search of the beguiling muse that will deliver to them the Washington Novel.
Their protagonists are Presidents having affairs, diplomats about to defect with state secrets, journalists (always journalists) seeking truth and senators seeking fame. Like pundits covering this election with last election's mind-set, these Washington novelists may have been focusing on the wrong characters. Garrett Epps, himself a former staff writer on the Washington Post Magazine, turns to the bureaucrats, the town's hangers-on, its cults and crazies, the permanent inhabitants of 'The Floating Island.' He may be on to something.
A straightforward plot synopsis reads like a minor-agency government briefing stumbled into by mistake. In part, it's about a guy trying to get a government grant to keep a lumber mill open. But he's a Gulliver tied down by Lilliputians.
Epps has them all. There are the followers of the Temple of Ray located on a dingy, weedy lot off Columbia Road. There's the department secretary, "a retired general whose career had followed the postwar pattern of upward failure," and his deputy, the type "who must be given a job of some kind because of political credentials, but who lacks qualifications for any job at all." There's the career man who knows where all the memos are buried and how to cut every job but his own, and the writer who lives on carry-out curry as he cranks out obscure journal articles on the Romanian debt. There's the Power Lunch, the set-up scam, the siege of the week. Through it all walk two relatively sane characters, Luck and Nash, and there may be more than a little coincidence in their names.