In Andrew Klavan’s novel Empire of Lies, the protagonist at one point turns on the TV and starts changing channels, flipping through reality TV competitions, celebrity interviews, and something called “Sparkle for the Prosecution, (where) a single mother-slash-DA was trying to convict a group of Christian child molesters.”
Too bad his novel was published four years ago. Today that plot line could have featured, oh, maybe actress Cybill Shepherd “as Jolene Castille, a Southern restaurant owner who is charged with murder after shooting an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie on the Upper West Side. Castille claims it was an act of self-defense….” That’s the description of a fall Law & Order episode, according to TV Guide. Wonder how it will play out.
Klavan’s Empire of Lies was the story of a guy who, after a youth spent living a “if it feels good, do it” philosophy, has become a rock-solid Christian family man. He stumbles on a terrorist plot and, with the help of a William-Shatner-like television star, helps foil it. Booklist and Publishers Weekly praised the thriller, but Booklist added this caveat: “The political polemics don’t subvert Klavan’s thriller instincts, but they are likely to limit his audience.”
One rarely reads or hears such qualifiers on books with a liberal worldview or things like Law & Order episodes, which do seem fond of conservatives/Christians,/pro-lifers/military as the perpetrators of various crimes.
Therein lies a problem for those, like me, who believe in free market/conservative political ideas. We have to look past a lot of “stuff” when enjoying fiction, whether it’s a novel, a television show or a film. The world of made-up stories seems to be dominated at the moment by liberal voices, especially in filmmaking.
Some might argue, as adman Donny Deutsch tried to on an MSNBC Morning Joe segment, that Bruce Willis movies qualify as conservative tales. Even Joe Scarborough laughed at that idea. Shoot-em-ups might be popular with a lot of folks, but they hardly embody a conservative ethos.
For that, you have to turn to writers such as Klavan, whose Weiss and Bishop mystery series (Shotgun Alley, Dynamite Road, Damnation Street) feature a college dropout searching for his inner hero as well as bad guys. Along the way, he encounters unpleasant truths. Here’s a snippet of Klavan’s searching hero back on a college campus looking for clues and happening upon a discussion:
“The subject was ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn.’ Now, you may not care about literature one way or the other—after all, you’re reading this—but it matters a lot to me. And I personally think the Ode is one of the wisest and most beautiful poems in one of the sweetest and most beautiful languages by one of the best and most beautiful of men, namely John Keats. But no. According to Stu (the Promising Genius), the Ode was no more than the ‘effulgence, or maybe I should say effluvium, of certain social interactions and assumptions.’ What’s more, all these interactions and assumptions were sexist, imperialist, racist, and altogether very, very bad. Therefore, said Stu (who was a Promising Genius) they needed to be analyzed. Analyzed, analyzed, analyzed. Everything, it turned out, needed to be analyzed. Even the fact that some of the people in the poem were men and some were women. ‘It’s just historicity posing as gender positioning, presupposing a chiastic ontology,’ said Diane.”
Klavan might be conservative, but he’s not for those who like their fiction dainty. His tales feature violence, sex, bad language and more. But they also showcase his worldview, which is, to the say the least, not the same as Robert Redford’s.
If gritty mysteries aren’t your cup of tea, though, you might try Mark Helprin, whose literary novels feature prose that doesn’t just sing but soars into Mahleresque symphonies of light and dark, humor and poignancy, life and death. For starters, try his short story “Ellis Island,” a fantastical tale of a new immigrant in the city. You’ll soon move on to his magnificent novels: Winter’s Tale, A Soldier of the Great War, Memoir from Antproof Case and more.
For lighter fare with appeal to women, there’s Claire Berlinski, whose Loose Lips and Lion Eyes have been praised as smart and fun. Berlinski, like Helprin and Klavan, also writes nonfiction articles and commentaries. She is the author of the nonfiction books There Is No Alternative: Why Margaret Thatcher Matters and Menace in Europe: Why the Continent’s Crisis is America’s, Too
I’m sure readers could add to this tiny list of good fiction writers who also happen to hold conservative political views. I urge conservatives to try them and then recommend them to friends. And I wish conservative publications would devote more space to fiction reviews.
(In the interest of full–and obvious–disclosure, I’m a conservative who happens to be a novelist, too, so this piece serves my interests as well as communicates my strongly held belief that free marketers/conservatives should pay more attention to the fiction writers in their ranks.)
There’s a reason why Jesus spoke in parables. Stories communicate important messages with clear and resonating impact. Even the best nonfiction can’t always do that.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. Her latest book is After the War.