The New Republic, by Lionel Shriver
(New York: Harper, 2012)
"Ostracized as a kid, Edgar Kellogg has always yearned to be popular. A disgruntled New York corporate lawyer, he's more than ready to leave his lucrative career for the excitement and uncertainty of journalism. When he's offered the post of foreign correspondent in a Portuguese backwater that has sprouted a homegrown terrorist movement, Edgar recognizes the disappeared larger-than-life reporter he's been sent to replace, Barrington Saddler, as exactly the outsize character he longs to emulate. Infuriatingly, all his fellow journalists cannot stop talking about their beloved 'Bear,' who is no longer lighting up their work lives.
"Yet all is not as it appears. Os Soldados Ousados de Barba -- 'The Daring Soldiers of Barba' -- have been blowing up the rest of the world for years in order to win independence for a province so dismal, backward, and windblown that you couldn't give the rat hole away. So why, with Barrington vanished, do terrorist incidents claimed by the 'SOB' suddenly dry up?
"A droll, playful novel, The New Republic addresses weighty issues like terrorism with the deft, tongue-in-cheek touch that is vintage Shriver. It also presses the more intimate question: What makes particular people so magnetic, while the rest of us inspire a shrug? What's their secret? And in the end, who has the better life -- the admired, or the admirer?"
"Whisking into his apartment house on West Eighty-Ninth Street, Edgar Kellogg skulked, eager to avoid eye contact with a doorman who at least got a regular paycheck."
I didn't realize this when I checked the book out (after We Need to Talk About Kevin and So Much for That, I'm such a fan of Shriver's that her name on the spine was all the convincing I needed), but there's an interesting back story here. According to the author's note at the beginning, she completed The New Republic in 1998, but American publishers wouldn't touch it; for one, this was before Kevin and Shriver's earlier titles weren't selling well, and second, no one thought the public was interested in terrorism anyway. Then came 9/11, and it was several years before anyone could even think about releasing a book that treated the subject with anything approaching humor. The first few chapters hold some promise, so stay tuned.
Long overdue update. Mostly enjoyed the book, though it was a bit of a slow starter. Funny premise; execution not as good as Shriver's later books became.