[As a courtesy to our guests, please keep comments to the book. Please take other conversations to a previous thread. - bev]
Host, Phil Munger:
Longtime journalist and award-winning author Joe McGinniss’ newest book, The Rogue, is the latest – but by no means last – book about Sarah Palin. Palin is not only the most famous Alaskan in history, she has uniquely combined political activity, celebrity, motherhood, grandmotherhood, a spousal relationship, borderline religious beliefs, professional victimhood, the American gossip universe, pop culture, legal obfuscation, new media and social networking. Increasingly known for being thin-skinned and somewhat lacking in spatial awareness, Palin, more than any American politician in a generation or so, almost begged McGinniss – or any investigative author – to move next door.
The Rogue is constructed around Joe McGinniss’ 2010 summer stay on the shores of Lake Lucille. His introduction to the ambience of Wasilla is lengthened by over a page as he lists all the churches in the greater Wasilla area – about 50. He even misses some that are hard to find for one reason or another.
The chapters alternate between retelling the meetings, interviews, encounters, conversations, emails, hate mails, visitors and narrowly avoided altercations as they roll by, and looks back at Palin’s rise. The looks go back into her family’s background, before Sarah Palin was born. McGinniss throws a lot of fresh light and detail onto available biographical information about both the Heath family into which she was born, and the Palin family, into which she married. He adds quite a bit of important new information too. The looks back eventually merge with the present as it was when McGinniss finished the manuscript early this summer:
This may be a strange thing to say in [opening] the last chapter about the star performer of the circus. But no matter how much my book sales might benefit from a Palin presidential campaign in 2012, I sincerely hope that the whole extravaganza, which has been unblushingly underwritten by a mainstream media willing to gamble the nation’s future in exchange for the cheap thrill of watching a clown in high heels on a flying trapeze, is nearing its end.
In a review at the Euro-American Palin-centric blog, Politicalgates, Blueberry T has provided a fairly brief chapter-by-chapter synopsis. The subjects that seem to be brought up repeatedly by those interviewing the author this past week have centered around Palin’s two best-known sexual escapades (one pre-marital), the perception that McGinniss’ move next door was unseemly, questions about the birth of Trig Palin in early 2008, and the veracity of his anonymous sources. The author’s book tour interviewers, at least those that I’ve reviewed, don’t seem to be interested in how thoroughly McGinniss has documented the fervor of Palin’s over-the-top devotees, nor in the deep ties Palin has had since the early 1990s to domininionist sects.
The author gratefully acknowledges how fully he was able to use the resources and existing material of such Alaska bloggers as Jeanne Devon, Shannyn Moore, Jesse Griffin and others. He also points out the importance of author-journalists such as David Neiwert and Max Blumenthal for their research on Palin’s ties to far-right, white supremacist and millennialist organizations.
On the other hand, McGinniss is wary of the symbiotic relationship media has come to rely upon regarding Palin. He seems to understand that had Alaska’s mainstream media done a better job up through mid-2008, he would have been left without a subject for this newest book.
It is too early to tell what McGinniss has achieved, past writing the easiest to read, most engaging trip yet through the strange world of PalinLand. As the author noted, much contained in the book has been covered before. Not this way, though, and not with this level of humor, wonder, snark and plain curiosity. His coverage of the voluminous hate messages, calls and emails is centered not on him, but on what this means in a larger way. His continual refusals to take guns proffered to him day after day by a succession of some of my longtime friends made me laugh, because he accurately caught my friends’ quirks in a touchingly warm way. Even though you don’t know these people, you’ll probably laugh too, as Joe introduces them, one pistol, shotgun or rifle-offering woman or man after another.
He was notably more charitable toward the vast shortcomings of Alaska society in The Rogue than he had to be when writing about the crazed oil pipeline construction days in his 1980 book, Going to Extremes. At that time, McGinniss’ book was one of several that addressed the wild times of that construction boom, including John McPhee’s brilliant set of sketches, Coming Into the Country. Even though McPhee’s pipeline era book was a masterpiece of tone, narrative and style, his predictions about Alaska’s future held up far less than did those McGinniss made back then.
McGinniss’ implications about what the pipeline meant in 1980 were mostly limited to the future of Alaskan society. Those in The Rogue have as much to do with the future of our fraying, tarnished American fabric.