A Washington dinner party could make for a good novel. Politicians are calculators, and the best of them know how the figures will come out before all the numbers are punched in. An ostensibly social occasion--a dinner or a reception--is among the best places to watch a politician at work. He seeks information, asks what others think about an issue, tries out an argument on one side--analyzing, calculating. Put another politician there too, and you might want to listen in.
But not at a dinner party created by Howard Fast. Rather than ideas, issues, names and witticisms, you get a couple of college kids sounding off about Buddhism and meditation--reverberations of the worst of the 1960s. "I mean, to me," the senator's son tells the secretary of state, "taking a human life is an act of murder." His daughter, equally given to profundity, tells the secretary about "mushroomlike clouds" that will "blow us all away."
Her father, Sen. Richard Cromwell, is silent at dinner, and silent through most of the novel. He is shown to be vaguely liberal. He is angry about the arrest of the Tucson activists who gave sanctuary to Salvadorans. And he's against nuclear war.
But other than that, we get "Dallas" or "Dynasty" in the Washington suburbs. We see him jogging in the morning, cruising in his Mercedes sports coupe, swimming in his pool, setting up a rendezvous with his female assistant, discussing wines with his butler. He is surrounded by a cardboard cast that includes a son at Harvard Law, tall and handsome but with AIDS, and a wife with family wealth but aging and unhappy. And guess what? She is seeing an analyst.