I got Glenn Beck’s The Overton Window for Father’s Day, and I finished it last night. Writing a book that works both as a page-turning thriller and a treatise on political philosophy is a tough challenge. Beck’s effort is passable, but it’s not great.
The first problem he hits as a thriller is length: the book is only 292 pages (excluding the afterword). I did some quick comparison with a sampling of books by other thriller authors. Dan Brown averaged about 550 pages, Michael Crichton came in at 443 pages, and Tom Clancy got 595 pages on average. Compared to these guys Glenn Beck wrote about 1/2 a thriller.
That partially explains why – when I finished the book in just a few hours – I didn’t feel like anything had really happened. There are other problems, however. Most of the action that does take place happens far away from the main characters. The shoot-outs, explosions, and murders all either involve minor characters or happen completely off-camera. The central character spends most of the novel sort of drifting around aimlessly, and no thriller can succeed without a powerful, willful protagonist who spends the book moving Heaven and Hell to follow his deeply-held convictions.
As far as political philosophy goes, nothing in the book will surprise Glenn Beck fans. He revisits the same books, quotes, and theories that his audience will recognize from his radio and tv shows. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, however, because I don’t think Beck’s core audience were the people he wanted to reach with this book. Here’s a section of what we wrote in the afterword:
There’s a very good reason we called this book The Overton Window… We chose this title because it’s also a technique that, to one extent or another, we just used on you. (The key difference is, I’m opnely telling you that’s what I’m doing’ I don’t have a hidden agenda here.) In the course of reading and thinking about this story, it’s simply my hope that you’ve spent a little bit of time entertaining ideas that you might not have considered before.
Glenn Beck’s fans have already considered the ideas in this book. It’s the people who don’t tune in to his shows who Beck needs to reach, and he knows that. That’s why he picked the thriller genre. In much of mainstream America the smear job on Glenn Beck has been successful. He’s viewed as an out-of-touch extremist, a self-serving liar, or just a clueless clown. In order for Beck to get more people to consider his particular brand of libertarian philosophy he needs to break through this barrier of skepticism, and there’s no better way to do that then by putting out a blockbuster summer fiction novel.
The problem is that this book just doesn’t quite cut it. I’m sure Glenn Beck fans will pick up their copies, but in order to get through to people who aren’t already fans he doesn’t just need great politics. He needs a great thriller. And this book is a passable thriller, but it’s not a great one.
The book is good enough to keep him in the game, however. If Amazon.com rankings are any guide it’s selling briskly, and at a bare minimum this book is a great prequel. He has set up the concepts and the characters, and he’s in a great position to follow it up with a truly fantastic novel.
If he writes a sequel that amps up the action, speeds up the pace, and ratchets up the stakes he will be able to deliver the kind of thrilling thriller that will have a genuine chance to break on through to the mainstream and carry his brand of libertarian political philosophy with it.