George Garrett: The Finished Man
Garrett’s first novel is a superb political novel which is just as relevant today as it was when it was written. It is very loosely based on the career of Claude Pepper, the liberal Florida politician who was beaten in his attempt to become a senator for a third full term by his one-time protégé, George Smathers, using dubious tactics, including red-baiting, and including the famous but apparently fictitious speech Are you aware that Claude Pepper is known all over Washington as a shameless extrovert? Not only that, but this man is reliably reported to practice nepotism with his sister-in-law, and he has a sister who was once a thespian in wicked New York. Worst of all, it is an established fact that Mr. Pepper, before his marriage, habitually practiced celibacy. There are also, of course, parallels to Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men. In this story, the Pepper figure is called Allan Parker, while the Smathers figure is John Batten.
But the focus of this story is Mike Royle, who is working on Senator Parker’s campaign. His father had once been considered for governor but had taken an anti-Ku Klux Klan stance, for which he had been brutally beaten by Klansmen. Royle had been in New York but bored with his job and struggling after an unpleasant divorce, he contacted Senator Parker, who had known his father, and volunteered for his campaign. We follow the campaign through his eyes, as well as flashbacks to his early life and his relationship with his father. Batten uses the race issue to attack Parker who is more sympathetic to the black population. But Royle gradually becomes disillusioned with not just the political process but the way people involved in that process willingly sell their souls to obtain what they want. When Senator Parker has a photo taken with a Ku Klux Klansman to win votes, Royle is totally disillusioned and, right at the end, decide to defend a black man who tried to shoot Parker (but shot the Mayor instead).
This novel may not be as strong as Warren’s, not least because that novel was based on a larger than life character and this is effectively translated into the novel by Warren, while Parker is, frankly, not much more than a standard Southern politician. However, it is very well done for a first novel and very well done for a political novel.
First published 1959 by Scribners