"Don't tease the panther": An exclusive look at Glenn Beck's The Overton Window
The opening lines of Glenn Beck's yet-to-be-released novel, The Overton Window, read as follows: "Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it's really only moments that define us."
In a quirk of convenience, this line also describes the best way to deconstruct The Overton Window, a copy of which Media Matters obtained and read -- nay, devoured -- with great relish. As we slogged through its many plot holes, ridiculous narrative devices, and long-winded limited-government sermonizing passed off as dialogue, we singled out ten moments that define The Overton Window as the truly and remarkably awful novel that it is.
First, a quick summation of the plot, such as it is. The protagonist, Noah Gardner, works for an impossibly powerful public relations firm in Manhattan that has been the driving force behind pretty much every political and cultural movement of the 20th century. Their latest and grandest scheme is the culmination of a lengthy plot to change the United States into some sort of ill-defined progressive plutocracy, and the catalyst for this change is a nuclear explosion that will occur outside the home-state office of "the current U.S. Senate majority leader," which happens to be at the same address as Harry Reid's Las Vegas offices. The nuclear attack is to be blamed on the Founders Keepers, a Tea Party-like group -- led by Noah's love interest, Molly Ross -- that is working to foil the plot.
1. Rule number one is: "Don't tease the panther"
Noah and Molly find themselves in bed together early in the book after a harrowing experience at a Founders' Keepers rally. They agree to sleep in bed together because Molly is too scared to sleep at home, but Molly insists that nothing sexual will take place. Noah agrees, on the condition that she "not do anything sexy." She presses her cold feet against his legs, and Noah responds:
"Suit yourself, lady. I'm telling you right now, you made the rules, but you're playing with fire here. I've got some rules, too, and rule number one is, don't tease the panther."
2. Someone left a voicemail about a mom in a hospital, or something. I deleted it.
As the nonsensical plot kicks into overdrive, Noah desperately needs to find Molly, who had been working as a temp mail room clerk at Noah's father's PR firm. When he goes down to the mail room, he is told by an employee that Molly has not shown up for work, but someone had left her a voicemail over the weekend. When Noah explains that he needs the message because it's "important," the employee responds:
"I deleted it, and I didn't write anything down, since it was a personal thing. The fellow who called must have just tried all the numbers he had for her. He said her mama was in the hospital."
So, just to be clear, upon hearing a voicemail message about a coworker's mother being in the hospital, this person decided to delete it and not write anything down, "since it was a personal thing." It really is getting hard to find good help these days.
3. ATTN Catering company: Stalin's grandson doesn't want mayo on his sandwich
Many of the major plot reveals in The Overton Window hinge on absurdly lazy writing. For example, early on in the book, Noah's father hosts a secret meeting to discuss the evil plot to nuke the Senate Majority Leader's office and blame it on the Founders' Keepers. So how is it that mail room temp Molly Ross comes to know that this meeting took place and who was in attendance? Simple:
"I know there was a meeting at the office yesterday afternoon," she said, lowering her voice but not her intensity. "I saw the guest list on the catering order. I know who was there. I know you were in it. And I think I know what it was about."
See, it's important to make a personalized catering order. The catering company can't do their work properly unless they know the identities of every single person attending this classified meeting. Also, it's important to send this highly sensitive information via regular U.S. mail and let temporary employees handle it.
Funnily enough, it's this bit of information that impels Molly and Noah to break into Noah's father's office to do some sleuthing as to what actually took place at the meeting. As they're standing in the office, Molly asks Noah: "Who was in this meeting, do you know?" Remember, Molly had already said she knew who was at the meeting from reading the catering order. Must've just slipped her mind.
4. The mail-clerk espionage
As we've already seen, Molly was hired on as a temporary mail clerk at the Gardner PR firm, a position which, at first glance, wouldn't seem to enjoy a high level of security clearance. It turns out, however, that this particular PR firm sends and receives all its super-secret and highly classified memos via the U.S. Postal Service. So by that strange quirk, Molly was given the opportunity to steal a classified government memo detailing a nefarious plot to put Americans into concentration camps, as is explained to Noah a couple of days after the office break-in:
Landers finessed right past that question. "The first piece," he said, "was that we figured out who leaked the government document to the press last week."
"Who was it?"
"It was scanned and sent out from right here. About two hours after it came into the mailroom."
"I don't believe it," Noah said.
Landers picked up a manila folder from the desk and put it in Noah's hands. "Take a look for yourself," he said.
The tab on the folder wasn't labeled and the paper inside was still warm from the copier. The top document was the cover page of a dossier, and the bold heading was just a name: Molly Ross.
He flipped the page to find a breadcrumb trail of computer activity sent up from the IT department. There was her log-in and some fairly cagey attempts to hide the suspicious actions through a proxy mask, along with the e-mail message in question, addressed to a list of a few hundred recipients outside the company firewall. And there was the attachment that contained a digitized version of the formerly secret DHS memorandum.
No question that she'd done it; no question that she'd tried to hide what she'd done.
Why Noah finds it shocking that Molly would steal this memo is anyone's guess. As noted above, he and Molly had already broken into his father's office in order to obtain this information.
5. Never leave your super-villainous PowerPoint presentations lying around
After Noah and Molly break into Noah's father's office, they discover several of the intricacies of his father's nefarious plan laid out clearly in a PowerPoint presentation.
Down the central hall and adjacent to the conference room they keyed themselves into the locked AV booth, where the presentation files were stored. Molly stood by him as he found the coded folders on the computer, entered their passwords, and prepared the show to be launched from a remote controller at the podium inside.
It's unclear how Noah knew the password for this folder, but the answer probably has something to do with Woodrow Wilson.
6. The co-conspirator wrap party
One of the key plot elements of the book, we think, was a police raid on a Founders Keepers meeting which Noah attended with Molly. The NYPD raid the meeting after a bunch of rowdy participants -- really undercover cops looking to purposefully start trouble -- get violent and one of them fires off a gun. After Noah is arrested and taken downtown, he figures out that the whole thing was a set-up when he, quite conveniently, sees every one of the agents provocateurs just hanging out and chatting in the police station, in full view of everyone and still dressed as Founders Keepers:
From the sound of it, this new call was either to an assistant district attorney or the DA himself, but before he could pick up the gist of the conversation something grabbed Noah's full attention through the thin window by the door frame.
Out in a common area, a dozen or so men were gathered together having coffee and a collegial chat with some uniformed police. He stood and stepped closer to the glass, trying hard to believe his eyes. In this surreal gathering was every heckler, every troublemaker who had made himself apparent during the speeches at the bar. Everyone of them was dressed similarly, the differences being confined to the inflammatory slogans on their clothing and their selection of cracker-chic accessories. When scattered among a larger group they'd been harder to spot as co-conspirators, but all together like this, with their guard down, their costumes were obvious and their mannerisms out of character. It looked like the after-party of a Larry the Cable Guy stunt-double audition at Central Casting.
One of them matched a picture in Noah's memory to the very last detail. He was sure this time: the man was wearing a loud flannel shirt, a hunter's vest, a do-rag torn from the corner of a Confederate battle flag, and a shoulder holster.
7. Love... and the flat tax
I don't know about the rest of you, but after I kiss the girl of my dreams for the first time, the very next thing I want to do is discuss with her the virtues of the flat tax:
He bent to her, closed his eyes, and her lips touched his, gently, and again more urgently as he responded. He felt her arms around him, her body yearning against his in the embrace, a knot like hunger inside, heart quickening, cool hands at his back under the warmth of his jacket, searching, pressing him closer still. With everything to see and hear around them there at the very crossroads of the world, soaring billboards, scrolling news crawlers, bright digital Jumbotrons that lined the tall buildings and blotted out the whole evening sky, it all disappeared to its rightful insignificance, flat as a postcard. That place was left outside their small circle, and if asked right then he might have stayed there within it forever. But he felt her smile against his lips as they were brought back to where they stood by the brusque voice of a passing man, who advised in his native Brooklynese that maybe they should go and get a room.
A light drizzle had begun to fall, and down the block they found a coffee shop with two seats by the window where they could wait out the patch of rain. When he returned from the counter with their cups he found her sitting with a folded newspaper, not reading it but lost somewhere in her thoughts. It was a while before she spoke.
"I was starting to worry you'd forgotten I was here."
Molly took a deep breath and seemed to collect herself for a moment.
"I need to ask you something."
"If we hired you, your company, what would you tell us to do?"
He frowned a bit. "You mean if you and your mom hired us?"
"It's more than just the two of us, you know that. A lot more."
"I don't know," he said. "What is it you want to accomplish again?"
"We want to save the country."
"Oh. Okay. Is that all?"
"That's where we start, isn't it? With a clear objective."
"Okay. Let me think for a minute."
Molly had become deadly serious; this wasn't party talk. She didn't take her eyes from his as she waited.
"I guess;' he said, "I'd begin by sitting down with all these different groups and trying to focus everyone on the things they agree on -- the fundamentals. A platform, you know? Make it easy for people to understand what you're about. Propose some real answers."
"Give me an example."
"I don't know-start with the tax code, since your mom is so passionate about that. How about a set of specific spending cuts and a thirteen percent flat tax to start with? Get that ridiculous sixty-seven-thousand-page tax code down to four or five bullet points, and show exactly what effects it'll have on trade, and employment, and the debt, and the future of the country."
8. In times of stress, it helps to talk about Bill Clinton
So after going through the harrowing ordeal of the Founders Keepers raid and a night spent in the lock-up at a New York City police station, Noah and Molly find themselves in a company car on their way home. One would think that they'd want to talk about the evening's events, critical as they were both to the plot and their character development. But instead, they opt for a discussion of Bill Clinton's character:
"You know what? New topic. Ask me anything."
"Okay. Who's the most fascinating person you've ever met?"
He didn't hesitate. "President Clinton. Hands down."
''All politics aside, you've never seen so much charisma stuffed into one human being. And you brought up the subject of lying earlier -- this man could keep twenty elaborate, interlocking whoppers in his head at a time, improvising on the fly, and have you believing every word while you're holding a stack of hard evidence to the contrary. His wife might be even smarter than he is, but she doesn't have any of that skill at prevarication, and Gore was pretty helpless if he ever dropped his script. But Clinton? He's like one of those plate spinners at the circus: he makes everything look completely effortless. And obviously, in a related skill, he's a total Svengali with the chicks."
9. Noah vs. the narrator
The Overton Window is chock-full of characters that don't really do anything, but perhaps the person whose presence is least felt is the editor. Take for example, this passage in which Noah remembers thinking the book's first lines about life's defining "moments." The problem is that this line is actually said in the voice of the third-person omniscient narrator:
From behind his tinted visor a nearby man-in-black raised his riot club, ready to cave in the skull of the helpless man at his feet.
In this strange, slow procession of vivid snapshots, a random thought made its way back to him from earlier in the day. We stay mostly the same and then grow up suddenly, at the turning points. What came next would either go down as one of those dreaded defining moments, or as the final mistake of a bad night that would top any that had ever come before. It didn't matter which; the die was already cast.
From the book's beginning:
Most people think about age and experience in terms of years, but it's really only moments that define us. We stay mostly the same and then grow up suddenly, at the turning points.
His life being pretty sweet just as it was, Noah Gardner had devoted a great deal of effort in his first twenty-something years to avoiding such defining moments at all costs.
10. "I've got a brilliant plan that involves Star Wars." "Good, because I wrote a midterm paper on Star Wars"
Near the climax of the book, Noah and Molly must escape New York City and head to Las Vegas. Since Molly is on the terror watch list at this point, they need to find a way to get her on the plane. Noah unveils what the narrator describes as an "absolutely brilliant idea."
Noah's master plan involves buying an entire row of first class seats on a flight out of La Guardia and using his wealth and powerful name to bypass normal security procedures. But how will Molly make it through, you ask? Well, by dressing up as Natalie Portman, of course. No, really. She dresses like Natalie Portman -- complete with Noah's disturbingly accurate recollection of where to draw beauty marks on her face to complete the disguise.
But won't airport security recognize her? And what about her not having identification? Noah brilliantly gets around the fact that Molly isn't, in fact, Natalie Portman by having her wear a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses. And he explains that "Natalie" lost her purse during a wild weekend. See, airport security will often let you walk right through as long as you vaguely resemble a celebrity and inform them that you lost your purse.
Unfortunately, the plan hits a snag when the snoopy TSA agent is revealed to be a Star Wars fan-boy who would undoubtedly recognize one of the franchise's stars. Uh-oh! How do they get out of this one?
She turned to the officer, pulled back her hood and let it settle onto her shoulders, removed the baseball cap and let it fall to the floor at her feet, and then slow and sure, began to walk toward him.
"The Force is strong with this one," Molly said, as calm and smooth as a Jedi master. Her accent was gone, and her voice was just breathy enough to obscure any other identifying qualities of the real McCoy.
The TSA man's cheeks began to redden slightly. A power shift was under way, and as Noah had learned firsthand, when this girl turned it on your never knew what was about to hit you.
Yes, she quotes Star Wars to disarm the geeky guard. She later explains that she "wrote a midterm paper on the first two movies in college." And after this incident, we still had to endure fifty pages more.
- Glenn Beck