When you’re well known in one field of endeavor and you try to break into another, your status can be both a blessing and a curse. Your fame gets the door open; once you make your entrance, though, you sometimes have to spend half your time explaining who you are and the other half explaining who you aren’t. In the publishing business, it’s a toss-up. Ellen DeGeneres successfully made the transition from stand-up comic and actress to author with a series of essays. Musicians generally don’t do so well: John Lennon wrote two books of poetry (can anyone remember the name of the second one?); Marc Bolan brought out a collection of poems as well (10 points if you remember THE WARLOCK OF LOVE); and Graham Parker is rumored to have written a detective novel of sorts.
Now it’s Glenn Beck’s turn. The radio and television commentator has been popular in both mediums and has penned enormously successful nonfiction works. So how is THE OVERTON WINDOW, his first thriller? Just fine, once he settles down and finds his footing. It takes him a while. The book is nicely divided into three parts. The first is a bit…talky. I thought at points I had stumbled into a transcript of his radio program. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not something I want to necessarily read when I’m waiting for explosions and karate and the like.
In the novel’s opening, we meet Noah Gardner, an upwardly mobile twentysomething public relations executive who works for his father Arthur’s firm. Arthur Gardner will put you (somewhat) in the mind of George Soros, an individual with enough money, power and clout to change the course of a country’s political river through subtle manipulation, which is where the Overton Window comes in. The concept, which is at the heart of the book, is a very interesting one, part from-in-the-skillet theory, part Philip K. Dick, part Thomas Sowell. Noah is in lockstep with his father, ready for a whole new world order thing, to give people what they need whether they want it or not. That changes, however, when Noah meets Molly Ross, who is at the vanguard of a movement of traitors or patriots, depending on where you stand or where you sit.
That’s Part One. Things become a bit more orderly in Part Two, as Noah is bounced around, manipulated and not quite sure where he stands or what is right. And Part Three is where it all breaks loose. Noah takes a stand. Or at least begins to. By the conclusion, things aren’t winding down. They are just beginning.
The whole of THE OVERTON WINDOW is greater than the sum of its parts, and by book’s end you feel as if you have been treated to a wild night’s ride that has spilled over to the next day. Beck’s self-diagnosed ADD is set loose in the first hundred pages or so, but when he settles down and begins to let the storm of ideas, facts and theories that he has let loose simmer a bit, this becomes an interesting, even haunting, work. At times I was put in the mind of ATLAS SHRUGGED by Ayn Rand conceptually, and the argument that you don’t have to rewrite history if you make sure that people don’t know it or remember it is one I’ve made at my own dinner table. In any event, readers at all points of the political spectrum should be satisfied with THE OVERTON WINDOW, and some may even be surprised by how much they enjoy it.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 14, 2011