Gerald Who?

Snaking out from the Middle Atlantic states is a long distinguished line of political and literary Copperheads: Millard Fillmore, Horatio Seymour, Harold Frederic, Edmund Wilson, and the Pennsylvania duo of James Buchanan and John Updike. These men were certainly not proslavery, but they did view the Union cause with rather more skepticism than did their New England brethren. As with Southerners, they remember their dead: the anti-Lincoln New York Governor Seymour was memorialized years later by novelist Frederic, who in turn was rediscovered by his choleric fellow North Country patriot Wilson. Likewise, Shillington, Pennsylvania's Updike dedicated a play, "Buchanan Dying" (1974), to the Keystone State's only President, the oft-derided failure "in the trembling shadow of the Civil War." With Memories of the Ford Administration, John Updike takes another crack at this doughface whose sole claim to fame—his bachelorhood—has of late won him the tag (from, among others, Penthouse) of "America's first gay President."

The novel's queer title comes from its character Alf Landon Clayton, a history instructor at the all-girl, too-cute-by-half Wayward Junior College in a dreary New Hampshire industrial town. Alf is asked to provide "memories and impressions" of Gerald R. Ford's presidency for a scholarly journal; what he writes, instead, is a retrospective...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here