Tim Parks

Hardcover/320 pages
ISBN: 1-55970-855-7
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". . .an often tedious stream of consciousness. . ."

Cleaver: International media personality goes into hiding in the wake of character assassination.


For the first time in his life Harold Cleaver breaks with his usual diffident and even-handed manner and rakes the American president over the coals in a televised interview. Why? His son Alex’s book, Under His Shadow, billed as fiction, mercilessly lampoons the corpulent Cleaver’s secrets and habits. What can he do now?

Feeling raw and exposed, Cleaver travels to the Alps on the Swiss-Italian border to a tiny backward village to lick his wounds. Cleaver will retire from the world and from the media. No television, no radio, no cell phone, no newspapers, no computer and no media contact of any kind. Cleaver goes cold turkey and off the radar – but is it for good?

Cleaver is a thinly veiled diatribe against President G. W. Bush and the media circus that governs our views and our lives, told through the persona of Harold Cleaver, master media manipulator. Tim Parks comes out swinging, but Cleaver, Parks’s main character, sidles out whining and defensive. It is hard to sympathize with a character who walks away from wealth, power and fame to buy his way into another life. He is haunted by the ghosts of his past deeds and the voices of his mistresses and long time partner, as he stumbles farther and farther from everything he knows and has achieved.

In an often tedious stream of consciousness, Parks shuffles the deck of Cleaver’s excuses and justifications, adding little to the character or the forward movement of the story. I had to backtrack many times to figure out who said what and what was really going on. A good bit of the dialogue is written in German, and I had only a hazy idea of what was happening. The vernacular German adds another depth to an already barely fathomable tangle of lies and alibis. Watching an iconic personality adept at effective sound bites brought low by another man’s truth is revealing and disappointing. The human qualities that make even the most callus talking head sympathetic are absent in Parks’s Harold Cleaver, making Cleaver disordered, disorganized, cowardly and petulant.

Cleaver takes too long – nearly the entire book – to become an interesting and poignant character study of a son who detests what his father has become but who finds himself following in his father’s footsteps.

Reviewer: J. M. Cornwell