Out of nowhere this autumn, the sunny little Provençal town of Brignoles (pop. 17,000) became the most famous place most people had never heard of. Halfway between Aix-en-Provence and Saint Tropez, this is the equivalent of flyover country—you won’t find it in the Michelin Guide—for the hordes of Riviera-bound vacationers speeding by on the A8 superhighway. Social life revolves around the central Place Caramy, where locals pass the time at sidewalk cafés in the cool shadow of ancient plane trees, glasses of anise-flavored pastis in hand.
The 2013 agenda set out for the nation by our political and cultural commissars in the wake of the last presidential election could hardly have been more straightforward: They would bask in the glow of the (for real this time) End of History—We are all Morning Joe panelists now!—while humbled, hobbled dissidents, fevers broken, spent the year acclimating to permanent marginalization and fashioning tin idols to lay at the White House gates in celebration of the fast-approaching decennial anniversary of Barack Obama’s prophetic 2004 speech to the Democratic National Convention—you know, the one where an obscure Illinois Senate candidate destined to be king broke open the rhetorical seals, thereby unleashing the Four Horsemen of the Hopeocalypse upon those who “like to slice and dice our country into red states and blue states.”
“We worship an awesome God in the blue states,” Obama famously bellowed at these business-as-usual pundits and prevaricators, “and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the red states.”
What do you do when you’re in a Stephen King novel, but you’re not a Stephen King character anymore? Or rather: What do you do when you’re Stephen King, but you’re not a Stephen King character anymore?
King has been knocking out horror stories since 1974’s Carrie; in 40 years he’s turned out 50 novels, three apiece in the bumper-crop years of 1983 (Christine, Pet Sematary, Cycle of the Werewolf) and 1987 (The Eyes of the Dragon, Misery, The Tommyknockers). He’s played around with a pseudonym, written up-all-night doorstoppers and unforgettable slim parables, and become perhaps the most obsessively filmed novelist since Graham Greene. Over the decades he’s returned again and again to certain settings and themes: New England and, later, Florida, overcoming helplessness, adolescence and the loss of childhood innocence, rage.
THE ODDS IN September were in Bill Kristol’s favor. Bashar al-Assad’s army had been caught using sarin gas, the president was beating the war drums, and Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and an accomplished foreign policy percussionist himself, was optimistic that an American intervention in Syria was coming. Asked on CNN about opposition from congressional Republicans, particularly that of Sen. Rand Paul, Kristol was dismissive. “There are really five senators who are with Rand Paul. There are maybe 30 or 50 House Republicans,” he said. Kristol later warned that Republican lawmakers who voted for intervention might face some blowback from their base, but that ultimately, “Republican primary voters are a pretty hawkish bunch.”
Pundits in washington simply cannot decide about Ted Cruz. Does the Texas senator’s demagoguery more resemble that of Joe McCarthy (the New Yorker), or Father Charles Coughlin (MSNBC)? Was his fight to defund Obamacare a political version of General Custer’s last stand, or was it General Pickett’s charge (separate columns, both in the Washington Post)? Will Cruz hold the country hostage like the Taliban (the Daily Beast) or remake his party in his image like Vladimir Lenin (the Atlantic)? Should we imagine him as Don Quixote, the clueless would-be knight tilting at windmills (the New York Times), or as the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, the 10-story minion of evil from the 1984 film Ghostbusters (the Guardian)?