(Knopf / 978-0-307-26658-3 / July 2008 / 528 pages / $26.95 retail)
Although I had heard of Stephen L. Carter long ago, this is the first book of his that I have read. As a Baby Boomer born six years prior to Mr. Carter, I have been living through and following the same historic, modern American events that the author has so explicitly integrated into his complex tale of intrigue. Palace Council displays a clever conceit similar to the one so prevalent throughout the movie, Forrest Gump, in which lead fictional characters intertwine seamlessly with famous figures and events in history. To compound the power of the story, the book is written with the same fascinating depth of family saga that made certain books from an earlier decade such bestsellers. Palace Council, in one way or another, aptly reminded me of Rich Man, Poor Man, Kane & Abel, and All the Presidentâ€™s Men. With its plot encircling the interrelationships among Joe Kennedy, his legendary sons, LBJ, MLK, and the grand poohbah himself, J. Edgar Hoover, this book is certainly a second cousin to a lesser-known miniseries that I have always loved entitled Hoover vs. The Kennedys. The punch line is that Palace Council is as good as any of these famous, wonderfully detailed books and movies.
Stephen L. Carterâ€™s third novel tracks an ambitious young writer and social commentator as he interacts with his friends, family, fans, and many famous names in American politics. The reader might envision Denzel Washington as a very intelligent Forrest Gump who happens to know all the right people during the tumultuous years between 1952 and 1975. The main element of the book that fascinates me is the way the author has so adeptly combined what is almost a non-fictional, historical storyline with an extensive fictional saga of the exploits of key members of several wealthy, influential families. Stephen Carter is clearly a high-level intellectual who is fascinated by The Sixties and all the changes that did or did not have a lasting effect upon the American social and political landscape. Palace Council is every bit as much fun to read as some of the better Harold Robbins novels, and with its covers crammed with real movers and shakers of our lifetimes, the poignancy drips off the pages.
Whether or not you believe in conspiracy theories of one theme or another, I feel that most deeply thinking Americans have at least considered this fact. There have been many cases throughout the countryâ€™s esteemed and infamous history in which, if a conspiracy was not afoot, then our great nation has been ruled either by insufferably long strings of consequence or notions of deep stupidity. I have long harbored at least a few thoughts toward the former simply because the alternative is far less fathomable. Palace Council is one of those poignant, yet on the surface fictional, books destined to pose as many questions about our history as it does answers.
Some reviews of Stephen L. Carterâ€™s previous novel, New England White, mentioned the complexity of the plot and characters of that book as a negative issue. Although I sincerely think the readers who will enjoy Palace Council the most are ones who are old enough to remember many of the events, the complexity of the plot or characters never even once left me scratching my head in confusion. Certainly this is not a book composed for morons, or even for those who think the antics of Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan are news, but is it too obtuse for the citizenry? Never. Palace Council is one whopper of a sophisticated, highly topical, thought-provoking novel. The plotting and editing are impeccable. The storyline is fascinating. Splitting the difference between political nonfiction published by numerous television talking heads and some of the best fictional, epic sagas, Palace Council impressed the hell out of this author and longtime avid reader. This book will reside on my bookshelf with some of my favorite fiction and nonfiction. However you want to categorize Palace Council, letâ€™s just say that Mr. Carter has written one hell of a fascinating saga of thrilling intrigue.
Palace Council is Stephen L. Carter’s tenth book and third novel. It is available at Amazon and B&N. Floyd M. Orr is the author of Timeline of America: Sound Bytes from the Consumer Culture and the editor of PODBRAM. He is also the author of three earlier books and a contributor to others.