Steven Nemerovski’s Third Party: Volume one: Starting in the Middle is obviously fiction, but it reads more like journalistic non-fiction. In part, that’s because the first quarter of the book is full of detailed back-stories of the major participants in the establishment of a Third Party in the U.S. Most of the book to follow is apparent news clippings from fictional Illinois newspaper, The Back Bench (with the tag line “If you let it slip, we’ll catch it”) and transcripts of e-mails and phone calls. Verisimilitude is established quickly and the story is both believable and convincing.
Things are set in motion when self-made billionaire Alex “Atlas” Stein invites a handful of movers and shakers to his Aspen estate to talk about creating a viable third party. In that initial conference, two key components of his plan are established: to set the party’s sights on winning local legislative races in the Illinois General Assembly and create the party’s issue-based agenda. The party is quickly dubbed the “E Party” because of their three main objectives, to emphasize education, economics, and ethical reform.
Because of Stein’s wealth, fund raising isn’t a problem but rather finding viable candidates to serve in the Illinois State Senate and House of Representatives. While we learn precious little about those candidates, we know most of them are teachers wanting to push the issue of educational reform. Winning enough seats to become an important presence in the Assembly, the E Party quickly pushed their platforms of supporting education and putting the state budget on solid footing.
In short order, the two major parties strike back, not because of ideology or issues but rather to maintain the political status quo. Despite its small size, the E Party is well organized and innovative as it battles entrenched power players like David Kennedy, the long-running Speaker of the House who is a mastermind at maneuvering and manipulation. So the book becomes a long lesson in the processes of state governments, sadly not just those of Illinois.
The book then traces what happens the first year of the E Party’s involvement in working to pass their chosen legislation and then describes the next election cycle when dirty tricks become part of the campaign mix. The E Party’s goals increase, including finding candidates to run for the highest state offices and expanding into other states, although nothing is explained about how or what is going on outside Illinois. At first blush, it might seem their victories are too localized to be all that dramatic, but mastering their baby steps is what volume one of the saga is all about. What happens next, including nationally, seems to be addressed in volume two, Strange Bedfellows, which was published on August 9 if you’re ready for round two.
Along the way, some ideas are glossed over, notably just what’s in those supposedly well-written and significant white papers. We get only occasional splashes of non-political personal relationships as in the story of besieged ex-baseball player turned youth advocate Tom Robinson and the surprising love story of Atlas Stein that seems to come out of nowhere.
In the main, readers drawn to The Third Party will most likely already be political junkies, especially those with some experience in ground-level politics or have tried to urge responses from their own elected representatives. Despite the optimistic conclusion, witnessing state politicians function the ways they do is rather depressing. After this year’s elections, this literary x-ray of how things work, or don’t, suggests solutions to our problems are not going to be an easy fix, if our two main parties have anything to say about it.
This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com, Dec. 1, 2016 at: