Richard Condon | Critical Review by Alex Heard

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Richard Condon.
This section contains 920 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Alex Heard

SOURCE: "As the Political World Turns," in Washington Post, September 10, 1991, p. F3.

In the following review. Heard profiles the central characters in The Final Addiction, concluding that Condon "keeps things running nicely."

As fans of The Manchurian Candidate will recall, when Richard Condon puts on his political-satire hat, he has a thing for extremely stupid, cardboard male politicians who are backed by wily women. In The Final Addiction, a broad tour through the barrens of contemporary politics, the viper's nest of the global spy game, the void of Our National Mind and the shadowy controlling presence of organized crime (yes, the good old Prizzis make an appearance), there are two of these guys. Both are so insipid that you worry—repeated contact may be too much like mainlining marshmallow paste. But Condon, pro that he is, works that out satisfactorily. One of them appears only in tolerably brief scenes. The other mutates into a new, higher, more interesting stupidity life form.

The first is Osgood Noon, a presidential candidate. Take President Bush, liposuction his brain, and you've got Noon. He entered Republican politics by convincing his skeptical father that "this move could help business." Rising through the appointive ranks—ambassador to Monaco, chairman of the National Energy From Toxic Waste Commission, State Department, Reagan's "short list" of 91 candidates for running mate—he's being positioned by his brilliant wife, Oona, to run in 1992 on a pro-flag, pro-Pledge, pro-gun ticket. Downplaying his inherited wealth, "Goodie" claims not one but four heartland states as his home. "I am a working stiff," he says, "a tool handler from the oil fields of Texas who gets by with the sweat of his brow." This dolt's favorite hobby is pecking out "typewriter portraits" of former presidents.

The second is Owney Hazman, son of an American triple-agent and an Iranian double agent, who grows up harboring one obsession: to find his mother, who went into hiding when the father's house of cards collapsed in 1969. To that end, young Owney starts greedily hoarding a sizable financial nut, which he gathers first as a novelty salesman, then as a frankfurter salesman working for his wife's father. Owney is certainly an idiot—at one point he says to a much wiser character who is fleeing drug lords, "You don't really think, in this day and age, that anyone would think of killing anyone for four billion six hundred and twenty million dollars?" But he at least is capable of tying his shoes and "growing." His ambition is to become a network anchorman—the hope being that his mother will see him, rich and famous, and return at last to his side. Before it's over he lands something much, much bigger, in an ending that takes all the novel's themes way beyond their logical extreme.

As matters turn out—this is revealed very early, so I'm not giving anything away—Oona Noon is Owney's mother. She has her own agenda. She was a fanatic follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini, and her mission is to undermine the United States by flooding it with cocaine, which she smuggles in using a fleet of 79 supertankers inherited from her second husband, Nicky Nepenthe. Oona covets the presidency for her husband and herself. ("A five-day vacation for two people costin' five million dollars" is how she shrewdly appraises a recent official presidential visit to Barbados.) She's also determined to mother Owney along life's path without his knowing her true identity. Initially she pays for his anchorman lessons, but he proves hopeless; among other shortcomings, he can't get the knack of saying "I'll see you tomorrow" to the camera with the right degree of fake sincerity. Then she paves the way for a congressional seat, but that's scuttled when Owney, temporarily estranged from his wife, is taped by the CIA in a carnal engagement with a notorious IRA terrorist.

You're probably beginning to get the idea. The Final Addiction, like many a Washington lampoon before it, attaches a bicycle pump to current and recent events, and works it until they reach parade-float proportions. Normally I find this approach boring, especially since it has evolved into the ironclad formula for satirists aiming to "blast" contemporary public life. Even so, Condon is better at it than most. He relentlessly hits you with a denser (and dumber) supply of gags, leaving you with a sort of dizzy satisfaction—think of it as authoritative slapstick. He's strongest with the description of his very large cast of shameless characters. Here's our first sight of Oona:

A long robin's-egg blue car with a two-seater body by Figoni e Filaschi … drove up slowly … The Figoni vision was driven by a striking woman of an interesting age, Owney decided. She had a golden tan and wore a V neck yellow sweater over a scarlet blouse. Her eyes were like Delft dinner plates on a snowfield … She had cheekbones as high and flat as an Inuit medicine man's and short yellow hair which fit her like an Aztec feather helmet. He made a vivid note to stay out of her way … She wore clothes as if van Dongen had painted them on her, and she had a mouth that looked like a meal in itself.

Novels that "romp" through modern politics are usually driven by kooky plots. (Make no mistake, The Final Addiction is too.) But they survive from moment to moment on the basis of sharp, funny writing. Except for the final pages, when he flies too far into the wackysphere, Condon keeps things running nicely.

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This section contains 920 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Alex Heard
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