Political Fictions

There’s a school of thought emerging that believes powerfully in the version of Sarah Palin that appeared onstage at the RNC and is now querulous and even irate that she has vanished. They assert that she’s been missing, and seem not to have understood what it would have meant that she read a speech written for her that night, a speech she adjusted but briefly before being thrust on the stage. It was a speech that anyone McCain chose would have read.

It reminds me of any other time I’ve seen readers mistake a fictional character for a real one. With my own work or with others. I remember well the crushes my friends had on Janine Turner, the female lead on “Northern Exposure”, and then how that crush started to vanish when the real woman emerged slowly on late-night television. The woman they were in love with only existed when she had writers.

The hardest part of being a fiction writer is that everyone does what we do—what we make as art comes from the language, which is commonly held, and thus it takes place within a realm that everyone occupies. This is why everyone believes they can write a novel. This is also the reason for the illusion that writing can’t be taught. When readers read a novel, the act the novelist performs is familiar to them, even when it is brilliant, even when it seems like they couldn’t make that particular performance.

The power of the Palin narrative is like this idea: that anyone could be president. She offered the right kind of images for the party to construct a paper hero out of her. And for someone who doesn’t know that hunting a moose is only slightly harder than shooting the side of a barn from 100 feet away, because it is near-sighted and gentle and won’t run away, I can see that calling a woman a moose-hunter might somehow be exhilarating as a kind of Red-State feminist ideal. But for people like me, who grew up in Maine who know a moose is most dangerous when you hit it with your car, it was like watching someone pointing at Mighty Mouse lifting a barbell and acting like it was real—unconvincing heroics rendered in a cartoon form. And watching people want to vote for her is like watching people believe Mighty Mouse is going to rescue them from the falling building.


  1. It’s scary watching her playing up the ‘folksy every woman’ role on the debate right now. Scary that some people will believe it, just as they fell for Bush’s same act.

  2. I find myself compelled to recommend the Didion bits on campaigns.

    good stuff from the trails.

    what I’ve seen the past week makes me wonder how and when we let them break the machine.

    it also reminds me of the French…but in a late empire kind of way.

  3. good analogy… i just finished watching the debates which completely exhausted me and made me really depressed so now I am going to put onDerek Jarman “Blue” and disappear into Blue which will somehow save me.

  4. I couldn’t have described the illusion of change that Palin represents any better! I realize convincing the die-hard Reds to see the error of their logic is a moot point, but I have to say I’m appalled at how many so-called Blues are falling for the typical GOP charade. Perhaps I was too optimistic (or naive) to think that we’ve managed to move past the bigotry of the yesteryears …

  5. Chris: We’re cool. She’s widely considered in the polls to have lost.
    Lance: This was titled in an homage to Didion.
    Pope: Derek is a better hero than Mighty Mouse, any day.
    Kaefer: Thanks. And, yes, basically.

  6. You’re so right. And the fiction is helped along by pundits pointing to her and saying she won the debate. It works best to believe first, then look for the evidence.

    I have a feeling the Alaska that Janine Turner’s character lived in is as true to life as the one Palin has been hawking.

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