Speaker Newt's contract with erotica is 98% gore

March 12, 1995|By MICHAEL PAKENHAM

Far be it from me to let anything so trivial as partisan politics or the fate of the nation ooze into these sacrosanct columns. But Newton Leroy Gingrich has put his name (or part of it), if not much of his hand, to a book, and books are my game.

This is not the project for which a $4.5 million advance was contracted by Rupert Murdoch's empire and then turned back, under heat and pressure - a work intended to propound political visions.

In stark contrast, the book in question today is said to have been written for a trifling $15,000 advance, which purportedly went to Mr. Gingrich, who is said to have been responsible for the ideas and oversight but not for the bulk of the actual prose, which was crafted by William R. Forstchen. The speaker of the House will split any future royalties with his co-author. The book is titled, quite elegantly, "1945" (Baen Books. 416 pages. $24). It is scheduled to reach the booksellers' shelves in August.

To tweak and tickle the market, Jim Baen, the publisher, "leaked" bits of the manuscript to selected political reporters last December, then, more recently, circulated bound galley proofs that are presented as the first 145 pages of the book itself, complete with the dust jacket, in blazing colors, on very shiny, embossed paper.

Mr. Forstchen, the cover notes disclose, is a professor of history, with a doctorate, who "has published over a dozen science fiction novels." Mr. Gingrich's entire previous bibliography is a volume published in 1984 called "Window of Opportunity," a nonfiction work on his political views, also published by Baen Enterprises.

A widely acknowledged verity among people who scribble for a living declares that nobody can successfully "write down." That is, however smart and graceful and self-assured a writer may be, the temptation to write, for the sake of money, material of a lower level of aspiration than one's personal values simply doesn't work. Try as they may, high literary novelists of immense training, perspective, discipline, force of mind and penury cannot reproduce - or come remotely close to - the successes of million-copy bodice-rippers.

Another widely accepted verity is that there are exceptions to every rule; indeed, that there must be an exception to test every rule. (Of course, there are exceptions to that rule as well, to which there are no exceptions. . . . But let it pass. Soon it will be time for a drink.)

The best rule promulgated about Speaker Gingrich is that he is smarter than all the smarty-pants who dislike him think. My reading of the first 145 pages of "1945" tends to ratify that. And, whilst doing so, the impact tends to chill my bones.

The armature of the book is simple and promising: Accidentally injured on the day before Pearl Harbor, Hitler, in a coma, was unable to declare war on the U.S., and Congress declined to be beastly to the Hun. Japan has been defeated by the U.S. without benefit of the atomic bomb. Britain and Germany have entered a vague truce that has left all of Continental Europe under Nazi domination. U.S. nuclear weapons research is still going ahead. A Nazi seductress wheedles that information from a presidential confidant, and Hitler orders a supersecret preemptive strike against the Oak Ridge, Tenn., site of the Manhattan Project.

All public attention given this book thus far has focused on its sexiness. How sexy? Try this: On the first page of the excerpt, the following elements are introduced, in these exact, precise words: Shameless pleasure; a Tiffany lamp; that first luxurious after-bout inhalation; mock-innocent appeal; a gold-plated Ronson; exotic mistress; a lethal pout; art deco night stand. The last line of the page introduces the principal female character as "mistress to the chief of staff of the President of the United States," who, on Page 2, "rolled onto him and somehow was sitting athwart his chest, her knees pinning his shoulders." The action of this steamy, seamy opening espionage would best be described, in a manner sufficiently polysyllabic for a polite family newspaper, as post-coital concupiscence.

But after the first three pages, there is no sex at all. The remaining pages are very explicit, but the offensiveness, if any be taken, is in violence - often very bloody and almost celebratory - but never again in sex.

Lots of that violence could be called sensual, certainly lustful, and I suppose to some pitiable personalities it may be erotic. Witness: "Terror like a gnawing rat ripped into his soul, but he could not turn back; invisible hands pulled him into the lower pits of darkness." Or: "Yes, Richer, there are young female scientists. And you are to shoot anyone who might be a young, female scientist. But do not linger over them, and do not prefer them to old, fat males, who are very much more likely to be important targets."

That brand of lasciviousness dominates 143 of the 146 pages of the circulated galley proofs, precisely 98 percent of the full text available today. Leaving one to wonder . . .

It is time for a drink.

And, perhaps, for a prayer.

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