Culture

It's pretty hilarious this book even exists.

Five Thoughts on The President Is Missing, Bill Clinton’s First Novel

Whenever a comedian is asked whether they are happy that Trump—a giant baby tweeting giant baby things from the White House—is president, they tend to say that they are not. The assumption is that their jobs are easier now with a big dumb dummy as Leader of the Free World. The hilarity writes itself. But crafting worthwhile jokes about a President who is already a living joke is actually kind of tough.1

This is essentially how I feel as I sit down to write about Bill Clinton’s new book. Because really, how do you add to the comedy of a former president joining forces with best-selling thriller writer James Patterson2 to pen a book called The President is Missing, which sounds like it should be a children’s book but is actually a novel about a President (and former Marine, naturally3) who must dodge beautiful assassins and thwart a terrorist plot borrowed from Live Free or Die Hard.

Already I feel like we in the press have moved on too quickly from the inherent hilarity of this situation alone. But I suppose we’ve lost our capacity to be surprised by any intersection between pop culture and the presidency. Barack and Michelle Obama made news a while ago by penning a development deal with Netflix. Now, if they make a Twilight spinoff, only with Republicans instead of Vampires, we can’t be surprised.4 It’s mostly Clinton’s fault though. Instead of think pieces about what it means to have a former president go all Dan Brown, the media was first writing about an awkward interview Clinton had wherein he seemed predictably impatient about Monica Lewinsky questions5 and then writing the follow-up articles after the former president’s mea culpa on Stephen Colbert.

I’ll let the reputable reporters comment on all of that. I want to keep our focus on what’s really important: The President is Missing.6 It deserves some more thought.

Thought #1

While The President is Missing promises details only a president could know, it’s decidedly not an autobiography. You can tell because Bill Clinton’s full name is William Jefferson Clinton. The president at the centre of The President is Missing!7you know, the one who is missing—is named Jonathan Lincoln Duncan. They are completely different names. Sure, they both have given names with popular diminutives, presidential middle names, and last names that sort of rhyme. But that’s all coincidence.

Although, I do wish all authors used this naming convention for their characters. Instead of Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s main character would be Lou Kidd; Dan Brown’s preternaturally savvy symbologist would be named Dave Black,8 and there’s probably a woman author who also created a character with which we could make a similar joke.

Thought #2

James Patterson—like many wildly successful authors before him—doesn’t technically write his own novels. He writes detailed outlines, then sends them to collaborators to finish. At the same time, presidents have been known to farm out their books, too.9 Reviewers have noted that it’s pretty obvious in The President is Missing! which writer is writing when (the punchy stuff is Patterson, the political asides—and dishy anecdotes about bowling alleys in White House basements—is classic Clinton). But I think the real mystery here is: Who actually wrote this book? Whose fingers tapped the keys? Which fellow, for instance, crafted this paragraph, found at random on page 394:

“Her brother, so much more talented on the violin, not only because he is two years older, with two more years’ instruction, but also because it came so effortlessly to him, as if it were an extension of him and not a separate musical instrument, as if producing beautiful music was as natural as speaking or breathing.

For him, a violin. For her, a rifle.
Yes, a rifle. One last time.
She checks her watch. It’s time. It’s past time.
Why has nothing happened?
Where is the helicopter?”

Thought #3

It’s tough to have your author bio next to a former president’s, but on the back flap of The President is Missing! James Patterson puts his accomplishments up against Clinton’s.

This is interesting only because, who are these bios for? I know who they are about, but who are they for? Who picks up this book and thinks, “Hmm, I wonder what else this guy has done?” Although, to be fair, this is Clinton’s first novel, so an introduction might be in order.

Thought #4 (an addendum to Thought #1)

President Duncan—who, as a reminder, is missing—is facing possible impeachment from his political rivals. That he can put that on the back burner so he can save the goddamned world…I’m just saying I think Bill Clinton really enjoyed himself while he wrote this.

Though, strangely, Duncan (who is a widower10) is remarkably chaste throughout this entire adventure. This is what authors call using their imagination.

Thought #5

I guess I should probably read this book, huh?

References   [ + ]

1. SNL basically just restates real things Trump and his cronies already said, just with more squinty Alec Baldwin. Others, like Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers, have found ways to turn Burnt Orange into comedy gold. So, it’s not impossible, is what I’m saying.
2. Whom, as I learned during the course of my research, was once described as a “terrible writer” by Stephen King.
3. Much like President Thomas J. Whitmore, who I’m sure I don’t need to remind you, gave such a stirring speech that the entire human race (including spear-carrying warriors in Africa, because seriously?) was inspired to fight back against alien invaders in an act of rebellion that would come to be known as the world’s Independence Day.
4. Though fingers crossed they pick a better writer to pair with than Clinton did.
5. While James Patterson looked uncomfortable.
6. It’s a little ironic that this book is coming out around the same time Melania Trump is addressing rumours that she was missing. The only explanation: FLOTUS is a secret agent…but from what country? Where do her loyalties lie? And is she in over her head? Get Clinton on the phone, I smell a sequel!
7. Which doesn’t technically have an exclamation mark in the title, but probably should. People love punctuation in their titles. Just look at mother! or Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot.
8. Or Dave Frown, if we’re going by the rhyming thing.
9. They’ve also been known to win Pulitzers for their ghostwritten works, like Profiles in Courage “by” John F. Kennedy.
10. I’m sure it doesn’t mean anything, Hillary.