Beware, genre cops! The Scandals Scandals mixes suspense, naturalism and satire

Does your stomach churn if a novel mixes genres? As the author of The Solomon Scandals, I cheerfully plead guilty.

My book blends suspense, naturalism, and satire. The goal is to entertain but also explore the oft-bizarre realities of Washington as a white-collar factory town. Scandals is not a quick beach read. But I won’t mind your thinking of it as a leisurely and quirky one for the thoughtful and adventurous.

Simply put, Scandals both respects and flouts the conventions of the just-mentioned genres. Even if the plot unfolds in the 1970s, I’d like you to see Washington in new ways.

As mostly a suspense novel, my book serves up an intricate plot and gradually unveils secrets and conspiracies. But Scandals also embeds a deeper social and political commentary within its suspenseful framework. Unlike typical suspense fiction that might prioritize plot over character development or thematic depth, Scandals uses its narrative tension to explore complex issues of morality and corruption.

Yes, in line with the above, Scandals also shows a naturalistic streak. It depicts the social, political, and physical landscape of the 1970s, within which the characters often act in ways determined by their environment in line with the rules of naturalism. For example: “Driving home, I could see my obsessions all around me. Up and down Connecticut Avenue and beyond, the buildings of Seymour Solomon and associates loomed—each reaching Washington’s commercial height limit, each grabbing every dollar of space in the sky, each looking as if a giant George Babbitt had been at work with Scotch Tape and an Erector Set. Bureaucrats occupied Solomon’s buildings, along with stockbrokers, trade associations, and other staples of the local rental market. Every now and then rumors wafted about. The drones next to Barb’s Secretarial Service—were they Agriculture or CIA? Was another Manhattan Project aborning above Menkov’s Ladies’ Wear?” Not exactly an artist or writer’s colony. Washington was and is about power and, increasingly, money. And so many of the locals are captives of the landscapes.

Wait. Did I say “often act,” complete with the italics? That’s because not everyone is a drone or political hack resigned to a certain fate—notably, Jonathan Stone, the reporter protagonist, who, rightly or wrongly, believes that he and his bureaucrat girlfriend can bring about some change. Wendy Blevin, the gossip columnist from Old Money, practices her own brand of activism, fortified by her time with Saul Alinsky. When D.C. officials let garbage pile up in a run-down neighborhood in the Anacostia section, she helps the victims respond in kind. “A giant pile of pet droppings, laced with the carcasses of dead rats, ended up on the lawn of a sanitation bureaucrat in Kalorama Heights.” Real life is more nuanced than pure determinism would allow. So many of us do have moral choices and ideally can make the better ones.

I see “moral” and “satire” in tandem, by the way. Humor, irony and exaggeration can highlight the differences between, say, virtue and respectability. Why is it that the biggest scoundrels so often end up the mightiest people in D.C., complete with the titles to go along? In real life, Alinsky concluded that “Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon.” Exactly! I wrote Scandals above all else to tell a story and get into the heads of my characters, but if some merited mockery at times—or at least teasing—then I would not spare them.

Obviously I could also mention Scandals as a political novel, but given the setting and the characters, I think that’s self-evident. Besides, the headline is long enough.

So there you have it—my full confession, with or without the blinding lights used in the old interrogation rooms. If, say, you find Scandals within the suspense section of a bookstore or read my simplified use of the S word, just know there’s actually far more to the novel than that.

Image credit: CC0 public domain from Rawpixel.

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David Rothman

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