Clinton Needed a Ghost Writer
So says Reihan Salam in TNR:
When Clinton asked the assembled writers to name their favorite books, Fuentes chose William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! Right then, GarcÃƒa MÃƒ¡rquez writes, “Clinton stood up and, taking long strides around the table, recited from memory Benji’s monologue from The Sound And The Fury–an astonishing but almost impenetrable passage.”
This anecdote underscores a point that’s been clear for some time now: Bill Clinton was, and is, a singularly strange man. That he is a political virtuoso is undeniable, and there’s reason to believe that he possesses a searing intellect of the first rank. So how could the same Bill Clinton, the borderline genius who bounded around the table to excitedly recite Benji’s monologue, produce such a banal, boring read? In the absence of a ghostwriter, that’s how.
My Life isn’t the worst book ever written. It’s not even the worst book I’ve ever read (or rather, skimmed). That distinction belongs to a book that elaborately outlined a planned transition from our contemporary industrial civilization to an antiseptic world in which all humans would become 4’10” and live in identical pods in an effort to conserve resources. And even that book was strangely compelling, something that can’t be said for My Life. To translate Clinton’s boundless energy, depravity, lunacy, and brilliance into writing requires feats of imagination that non-writers, Clinton included, simply do not possess.
“Let Clinton be Clinton,” you might say. But paradoxically, letting Clinton be Clinton–letting his ego get the better of him by allowing him to write his own memoirs–is not, in fact, letting Clinton be Clinton. It is letting Clinton be something he is not–a crashing bore who, shockingly, loved his mother, worked hard, and made some mistakes along the way. To truly let Clinton be Clinton, you need writing of epic scope and ambition. You need dark, languid tones. You need observations that strain credulity and prose that dazzles and sparkles until finally it blinds, causing anguished screams and frenzied trips to the emergency room. Mere realism won’t do the trick. Only magical realism, complete with mandolin-strumming macaques and pipe-smoking buttercups, comes close.
That sounds about right.