Eureka, Look What Clinton’s Reading

Sometimes on international trips, Bill Clinton wanders to the back of Air Force One to chat with the press pool. If travelling reporters are looking for a non-Monica topic that might prompt a revealing answer, then Chatterbox has a suggestion. Ask the Big He, “Did you enjoy reading Eureka Street?”

This sounds cryptic, so some explanation is in order. This comic novel by Robert McLiam Wilson, set in Belfast, was one of the books that deputy press secretary Barry Toiv said that Clinton was reading last week on Martha’s Vineyard. Nobody in the press corps thought much of this revelation. Nor did Chatterbox until a sharp-eyed reader, Michael L. Coch, called it to his attention. Coch obligingly passed along a review from that suggests that Eureka Street was an odd literary choice for a president trying to recover from a sex scandal. To be blunt, part of the novel’s plot revolves around a scam by one of the fun-loving characters to sell dildoes through the mail.

Intrigued, Chatterbox researched further, albeit without making the supreme sacrifice of actually reading the novel. According to the Independent, Wilson originally set out to write what he modestly called a “Belfast Ulysses.” And the New York Times review last December began: “Take one horny, argumentative Roman Catholic…surrounded by sexually adventurous women and random terrorist bombings, and watch the sparks fly.” Clearly, Clinton could easily identify with the hero, Jake Johnson, who is “trying to bed every woman who crosses his path.” The president might even appreciate the novel’s flaws, since Richard Eder writing in the Los Angeles Times complained that it was “marred by self-indulgence.” That’s pretty much the common assessment of the Clinton presidency.

Chatterbox wants to stress that he has no problem with the president getting his jollies from some racy reading, especially since it could be justified as foreign-policy research. But the presidential book list does point up Clinton’s never-ending dilemma–no matter where he turns, he can’t seem to escape sex.

WHOOPS: Chatterbox wants to apologize to his fellow refugees from the ‘60s for mangling the title of Richard Farina’s novel, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me. The moral that Chatterbox draws from this snafu is that it demonstrates that he truly experienced the ‘60s since he can’t remember anything.

Walter Shapiro