Wednesday, June 23, 2010

An excerpt from a book I'm reading

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors. I've spent years following a particular story or have invested a lot of time following compelling characters. But every once in a while, a gem of great writing jumps off the fictional pages of a book and smacks real world arrogance in the mouth.

..... from Stephen Hunter's I, Sniper: a Bob Lee Swagger Novel, December 2009, Simon & Shuster


"Here's what I'm asking: why can't we do something? Do we just have to take it? Can't we find our reporter? Who'll tell our side and make Nick look good?"

"You're so young, Starling. You must actually believe in justice or something fantastic like that."

"I do."

"Let me tell you what's going on, and why this one is so touchy. We are fighting the narrative. You do not fight the narrative. The narrative will destroy you. The narrative is all powerful. The narrative rules. It rules us, it rules Washington, it rules everything. Now ask me, 'What is the narrative?'"

"What is the narrative?"

"The narrative is the set of assumptions the press believes in, possibly without even knowing that it believes in them. It's so powerful because it's unconscious. It's not like they get together every morning and decide 'These are the lies we tell today.' No, that would be too crude and honest. Rather, it's a set of casual, nonrigorous assumptions about a reality they've never really experienced that's arranged in such a way as to reinforce their best and most ideal presumptions about themselves and their importance to the system and the way they've chose to live their lives. It's a way of arranging things a certain way that they all believe in without ever really addressing carefully. It permeates their whole culture. They know, for example, that Bush is a moron and Obama a saint. They know communism was a phony threat cooked up by right-wing cranks as a way to leverage power to the executive. They know Saddam didn't have weapons of mass destruction, the response to Katrina was fucked up, torture never works, and mad Vietman sniper Carl Hitchcock* (fictional character) killed the saintly peace demonstrators. Cheney's a devil, Biden's a genius. Soft power good, hard power bad. Forgiveness excellent, punishment counterproductive, capital punishment a sin. See, Nick's fighting the narrative. He's going against the story, and the story was somewhat suspiciously concocted exactly to their prejudices, just as Jayson Blair's made-up stories and Dan Rather's Air National Guard documents were. And the narrative is the bedrock of their culture, the keystone of their faith, the altar of their church. The don't even know they're true believers, because in theory they despise the true believer in anything. But they will absolutely de-frackin'-stroy anybody who makes them question all that, and Nick had the temerity to do so, even if he didn't quite realize it at the time. That's why, led by brother Banjax* (fictional character) and whoever is slipping him data, they have to destroy Nick. I don't know who or what's behind it, but I do know this: they have all the cards, and if you play in that game, they will destroy you too."

"Why can't we simply destroy the narrative?"

"Starling, it's everywhere. It's all things. It's permanent. It's beyond. It's beneath. It's above. It's in the air, the music, the furniture, the DNA, the blood, if these assholes had blood."

"I say, 'Destroy the narrative.'"

"I say, 'You will yourself be destroyed.'"

She achieved a particularly cute and fetchingly petulant look, so totally charming that he fell in love with her until he remembered he had a wife and three kids.

"So you think it's hopeless?" she asked.

"Starling -- Agent Chandler, Jean, Jean, that's it, right? Jean, listen, you do not want to get involved with these birds. They are smart and in their way they are ruthless; they will smile at you and charm you and look you in the eye, and for something they believe is the Truth, they will cut out your heart and let you bleed out in the sun..... "


Good stuff. And a press guy too. In addition to being one hell of an author of fiction, Hunter was a newspaper guy by trade, having retired as chief film critic of the Washington Post. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for Distinguished Criticism.