Picks and Pans Review: The Guest of Honor
Here at last is a novel that answers the burning question: How' effective a dating service would the U.S. Presidency make?
Abysmally written, stupidly plotted and padded so much it would make a better cushion than book, this tale is about a first-term President, Matt Underwood. Married to an ex-Miss America, Underwood is very popular; he is also very bored and just wants to play golf. Then he meets Noy Sang, the widowed president of Lampang, a mythical Asian country.
Underwood and Noy are supposed to be conferring on a loan and rights to an air base. They've known each other less than a day, though, and he is asking her whom she has slept with. "You are frank, aren't you?" Noy notes. "Not really," Underwood answers. "I want to know all about you. I don't want to skip a beat."
Underwood starts chasing Noy around the world, driving his bitchy wife into fits of jealousy, and he isn't the only one engaged in unorthodox affairs of state. His Secretary of State, Ezra Morrison, is being briefed by the CIA when he starts ogling a woman deputy director, who is also his mistress: "Morrison fixed on her undulating backside. Unforgettable cushions of love, Morrison thought, when you held each buttock in one hand."
For all the lusting in the heart, no real sex occurs until the end, so Wallace must find words to fill up his 312 pages. A lot of these words are blather; all that's missing is a neon sign flashing FILLER! When Matt takes Noy on a Washington tour, for instance, Wallace gets to crib from tourist brochures: "That's the J. Edgar Hoover Building that houses the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It hoards two hundred fifty million fingerprints to identify murderers or people suffering from amnesia."
There are frequent recaps of the action and such dialogue as Underwood telling a reporter, "Just stay out of the way, and keep out of sight while I'm here. Thank you. Good-bye to you—and, I might add, good riddance!" There's also a right-wing general who wants Noy's job, a kidnapping and vicious insults: "I've always found you too snoopy."
Wallace doesn't have as lofty a reputation as, say, Harold Robbins, but this makes Robbins seem like Kafka. If The Guest of Honor were the last book on Earth, you'd still be better off watching TV. (Delacorte, $18.95)