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IN BRIEF

Fiction

August 20, 1995|DICK RORABACK

COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO by Philip Weiss. (Farrar Straus Giroux: $21; 256 pp.) Some day someone will run for high office on principle alone and actually get elected. Until then, we'll have to make do with the likes of Jack Gold, who means to do the right thing, really he does, but . . . . In a novel of promise and compromise, a novel that should have been better than it is, first-timer Philip Weiss thrusts a young lawyer "of the left," dedicated and obscure, into the slash-and-burn of New York politics in an election year. Gold, for all his chutzpah, is abnormally naive for a big-city boy, given to feeling sorry for rats and saying things like "You can't not be nice to a beautiful girl, you just can't," and "He was probably scareder than me" and "that's another great thing about New York I almost forgot, grown men lying about how little sleep they got, feeling proud of that." He's smart, Gold, but no match for the machine. Holden Caufield meets Carmine DeSapio. Well, not entirely. The Tammany tiger is dead (it is, isn't it?) and gubernatorial candidate Early Quinlan is of another stripe. Quinlan is preternaturally handsome in a Warren Burger way, speaks in plump, pithy phrases--"God bubbles," Gold calls them--and owns and operates an exceptionally nubile daughter. Burry (for Berenice) Quinlan, almost as good as Gold--she wants to free the minks from a commercial ranch--seduces him without meaning to. Whereupon Gold, with absolutely no prompting from Burry, quits his job at a pro-bono law center and far too readily consents to spy for the Quinlan camp. A clever enough story, with plenty of wry insights into the political process, but for lack of any kind of motivation, many a summer book is left at the beach.

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