Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Windy City: A Novel of Politics by Scott Simon








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Scott Simon, host of NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday, has titled his latest novel, Windy City: A Novel of Politics. It’s a funny novel, something of a Chicago love story, longer than Chris Buckley would have written. Protagonist Sunny Roopini is an alderman who becomes acting mayor following the death of the beloved mayor. The cast of characters provide Simon with ample room for riffs on diversity, and the plot plods along in an easygoing way that makes readers almost as affable as Sunny Roopini himself. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, pp. 47-49:


"Who would want to kill the mayor?" Chief Martinez asked aloud, after all politicians had been safely removed from the premises. The mayor's office brimmed with brass-buttoned district commanders, blue-suited security cops, and investigators wearing gloomy gray suits. A growing parade of police technicians in blue windbreakers loudly stretched yellow crime scene tape across the length of the mayor's of­fice, unsnapped equipment cases, and hailed patrolmen to hold this, hold that, and use their investigative acumen to discover where to get coffee at this hour.

"I mean, who would want to kill the mayor?" Chief Martinez re­peated. After a mute moment, at least twenty hands shot up around the room.

"Let me rephrase that," the chief added in the general laughter., "I mean, which son of a bitch actually went ahead and did it?"

The mayor had been at once the most popular man in the city and the most despised. He was the most powerful and the most desperate for approval. No one else knew quite so many people. Between hand­shakes, winks, and waves cast out from podiums like blessings; between staffers, allies, adversaries, police, teachers, bus drivers, CEOs, parish priests, brokers, bakers, beauticians, street people, storefront reverends, and all forty players on the current roster of the Chicago White Sox (whom the mayor had made it his business to meet), Chief Martinez figured that at least fifty thousand people had the impression they knew the mayor personally.

The police had compiled an inventory of 1,476 people described, in the parlance of the times, as persons of concern. They had personally, if usually indirectly, threatened to kill the mayor of Chicago, either in a letter, a phone call, or increasingly, by e-mail. Of this accumulated number, 617 had said that they wanted to "kick your fat ass," "break your fucking neck," or apply some other force that, while technically short of homicide, was nevertheless regarded as threatening to the mayor's person.

Other correspondents obligingly listed the kind of details that ex­perts found signals of forethought and sincerity: 349 said someone should shoot the mayor—"Shoot you in your big black head" was a common expression; 320 avowed that they would be gratified to see someone "blow up your fat black ass." A much smaller number, 89, said that the mayor should be slashed or stabbed, while 64 said that the mayor should be hanged.

(Of that number, 13 were so explicit as to specify "by his balls," rather than his neck. Department psychologists suggested that this de­sire was so precise as to merit its own category.)

Another minority of 9 said that they wanted to fuck the mayor's brains out, fuck him up the ass, or otherwise desired to hasten his demise with ferocious sex. When Chief Martinez once suggested that some of those correspondents might be more carnal than murderous, department psychologists pointedly asked the chief to recall his days on foot patrol: how many husbands' and wives' heads had he seen cracked by a beer bottle an hour after a couple had been in bed? Desire and murder, they reminded him, were compatible passions.

Then there were other, utterly distinct threats that were imagined with almost breathtaking intricacy. Twenty-eight (a number so unex­pected that authorities wondered if it was the product of an organized campaign) said that they longed to pour honey over the mayor's pri­vate parts and sprinkle fire ants over the spill (which sounded excruciating; but arthropod experts at the Lincoln Park Zoo had evaluated the possibility and said that the bites would not prove fatal).

The overwhelming number of threats, 843, made mention of the mayor's race. Some -217 seemed to believe that the mayor was a clos­eted gay; 209 assumed that the mayor had to be some kind of furtive Jew, a covert convert, or in the thrall of Jews; and 107 blamed the mayor for not hiring them for a city job, for causing them to be fired from a city job, or for the fact that they couldn't seem to find or keep any kind of job as long as he was mayor. They implied that in his city only blacks, gays, or Jews got jobs.

Interestingly, most of the threatening messages did not express themselves in the conventional vocabulary of racial invective. They might threaten to kill the mayor for being black, a closeted gay, or se­cret Jew; but not for being a coon, a fag, or a kike. A generation of en­lightened instruction had managed to adjust the language-if not much more than the language-of bigotry.

An amazing number signed their threatening letters with addresses or imparted some other bit of information (a place of work or worship, the name of a friend or neighborhood) that assisted police in finding them. Two plainclothes officers, a man and a woman (a mommy and daddy, as the teams became known) would ring their bells shortly after ten at night. (Psychologists had counseled that anyone who sent a menacing message to the mayor would almost certainly stoke their re­vulsion by watching the late-night news.) The mommy and daddy would introduce themselves as Citizen Satisfaction Officers, eager to hear complaints.

The mommies and daddies often noticed the same signature artifacts in the suspect's apartment: browning newspapers, forsaken coffee cups, a permanently unfurled sofa bed, discarded wrappers, and an uncombed cat snoozing on piles of soiled clothes. Daddy would play with the cat—this was considered unexpected and disarming-while Mommy kept up an unthreatening line of conversation as both officers scanned the apartment for signs of weapons, explosives, or some kind of plotting.


The plot momentum is often predictable in Windy City, and at least a hundred pages could have been edited out without any loss at all. In a political year, Windy City is a topical diversion, providing enough entertainment, especially laughter, to be worth the hours spent in reading.


Steve Hopkins, April 21, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the May 2008 issue of Executive Times


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