Richard Condon | Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

This literature criticism consists of approximately 2 pages of analysis & critique of Richard Condon.
This section contains 500 words
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Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang

SOURCE: "Intrigue in the Business World and in Suburbia," in The New York Times, December 2, 1992, p. C22.

In the following excerpt, Mitgang lauds Condon's mockery of the politically powerful in The Venerable Bead.

The heroine of Richard Condon's 25th novel—his deadliest satire on the underbelly of American life since his series of Prizzi novels—starts out as Leila Aluja, the canny daughter of Iraqi immigrants, who acquires the rights to Tofu Pizza, the taste sensation of Europe and Asia. She advances from demonstrating pre-packed lunches at a trade school in Michigan to become the billionaire head of the world's largest fast-food conglomerate. Her companies own 114,720 outlets in 31 countries, a national evangelical television network; casinos in Nevada, Aruba, the Bahamas and Puerto Rico; a chain of ballroom dancing schools, and "7 U.S. senators and 61 congressmen."

Leila's aphrodisiac is power, which she gains and exercises ruthlessly. Her ambitions are fulfilled with the help of a good-luck talisman, the ancient ruby that inspires the novel's title. Along her crooked road to wealth and fame, Leila acquires and divorces four husbands, at least one of whom, a Chinese-Albanian spy-master, she probably loves. Before succeeding in the fast-food game, she becomes an American counterspy, a Washington lawyer and lobbyist, and a film and recording star. Her theatrical name, which becomes better known than Madonna's, is Meine Edelfrau.

Describing his heroine as a Washington spy and propagandist during the Persian Gulf war, Mr. Condon writes: "Leila had the knack of believing in whatever she was paid to do. She sold war with the same high purpose and zeal she brought to her crusades for cigarettes. If the crack industry had been better organized or had any goals beyond making money by killing people, she would have sold the meaning of its effect, slightly modulated from a chemical which produced insanity, to the stuff that dreams are made of."

Mr. Condon stops the action now and again to ridicule real people and imaginary organizations. Senator Joseph R. McCarthy is described as a man "who had given up his life mostly to booze" while hunting Reds. The director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, is nailed for maintaining that "there is no such thing as the Mafia," one of the author's favorite targets. President Ronald Reagan is reviled for stating that the burden of decreased charitable works would be taken up happily by the private sector. Among the lobbying groups attacked are the "National Gun Carriers' Association" and the "Center for American National Cigarette Education and Research (C.A.N.C.E.R.)."

Happily, we are back in familiar Condon country, a fictional land where political lions dwell, scoundrels thrive and greed trickles upward. With outrageous humor, the author mocks the power brokers behind the Manchurian candidates who dominate everything from Hollywood to Washington. Should we laugh at his puns and inside jokes, or shudder at the people who rule his American rookery? In The Venerable Bead, Mr. Condon has the singular ability to make readers do both.

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This section contains 500 words
(approx. 2 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang
Literature Criticism Series
Critical Review by Herbert Mitgang from Literature Criticism Series. ©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
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