Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Review in Progress: The Third Revolution, part 2


[Click here for the first installment of this review]

When last we discussed Anthony F. Lewis's The Third Revolution, I'd read about a hundred pages and was already thinking of it as a pretty solid novel. If I'd known what was coming, I'd have locked myself in a room to forestall any further interruptions.

The first hundred pages of the book are good, solid fiction with a realistic foundation. The rest of it is pure gold -- without sacrificing realism, Lewis cranks up the stress on Governor Ben Kane as Montana and the US government careen toward each other on a collision course. At every point Lewis keeps you wondering who's going to cave and who's going to stand firm. Will the feds blink? Will Montana secede? I'm not telling. The book is plotted too tightly for me to offer a lot of details without spoiling it, but I can tell you that you're in for a ride.

I do, however, want to offer you more than a "buy this book," so I'm going to talk a little bit about sub-plot. The main thrust of the book, as I said, fits together like a Swiss watch, but Lewis did the right thing when he decided to literally surround the core conflict with, of all things, bison and Blackfeet (and Crow, but dammit, I needed the alliteration). Running parallel to, informing, and sometimes intersecting, the conflict between Montana and DC are other stories: The story of a proud people, how they live and what they want after 150 years under the thumb of a far-away bureaucracy. The story of an animal which once roamed -- and might yet again roam -- a vast continent. These stories don't detract from the plot -- they complete it. The Third Revolution would have been at best a middling piece of work without them.

As I mentioned in part one, I hadn't developed a strong identification with any of the characters over the course of the first hundred pages. Lewis's characters take time to grow, and to grow on the reader ... but, over the course of the story, they do. Ben Kane doesn't come off as a plaster philosopher king. As the story proceeds, he's occasionally whiny, never too sure of himself, but ready to get his back up when he knows it needs to be done. He really does wish that he'd stuck to brewing beer and running his restaurant instead of going into politics, especially after a bunch of people like him run for office and ... well, you'll see. Joe Adams, his restaurant manager and right-hand man, also strikes a strong chord with me. Joe's not exactly political, but he isn't apolitical either. He's the man in the middle. He's not everyman, but he's what everyman might be if everyman had a 1972 Norton Commando and some common sense.

I have only one real bitch about The Third Revolution, and it's a minor one: In the last part of the book, a love story begins. It doesn't exactly end; it doesn't even really develop. That may be because the novel's end sets up for a sequel, which Lewis is writing right now and which I'm eagerly anticipating. Until that sequel arrives, though, the love angle (and not the obvious triangle, something I think other readers will also expect) is just ... there ... and it doesn't feel right. Fortunately, it plays such a seemingly minor role in the story that it doesn't really hurt anything. And I think Lewis probably already had something in mind. If that's the only thing wrong with the book -- and, quite frankly, it's the only thing I found wrong with it -- then it's not a real problem. Lewis has succeeded in writing an absorbing, suspenseful, realistic novel about liberty's future.

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