The new meme for conservatives who want to score some easy brownie points with the mainstream crowd is, “But I don’t like Glenn Beck!” This is the new version of those old apologetic tropes, “Some of my best friends are black (or gay)!” or “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!”
I’m not going to disavow Beck, or even comment on his positions here at all. However, liking him and agreeing with much of what he says does not mean that he has to be a good writer.
I’ve reviewed two other books of his here (The Christmas Sweater was OK pulp, but with a horrible ending, and Common Sense was also so-so, but random and poorly edited), and even though I gave each of those average reviews, this new book from Beck somehow manages to go from average to awful. It is far, far worse than anything he’s done before.
First of all, yes, all the negative reviewers are correct: the writing in The Overton Window is pitiful, amateurish, so excrementally bad that after the first hundred pages I was skimming through the rest as fast as I could to get it over with just because I wanted to write this review. At one point early on, the protagonist’s love interest is actually described as “very easy on the eyes.” Good grief.
The good guys are saintly angels and the bad guys are heinous trolls. Besides poor characterization, the critics are right about another thing in this book, too: despite the cover calling it a thriller, this book has no thrills. No suspense, no mystery, no twists, no surprises. Everything is perfectly plain from page one. The ending is a bland little dud. Glenn Beck makes Dan Brown look like Agatha Christie. Beck has been quick to admit that he had three “co-writers” on this book, and it suffers all the flaws that we see in movies where the screenplay was produced by a committee: it’s so uneven, kids could ride BMX bikes on it for fun.
But you don’t read a Glenn Beck novel for literary value, do you? No, of course not. Still, we should be able to expect a modicum of merit here, not this mess of tripe.
So what about the politics? Really, we all know the whole point of this book is to provide a frame for Beck to rant, so is the rant any good?
No, it isn’t. Yes, there are many interesting and important facts in here, and yes, they deserve broad cultural discussion, but as in Common Sense, they’re thrown in almost at random, often with no relation to the ostensible plot. This book reads like a lawyer desperate to make a case, so he just throws out everything he can think of in court, hoping some of it will work. Beck does a disservice to his positions by presenting them so poorly. The Overton Window will not enlighten minds nor will it engender conversation.
A supporting character is a conspiracy theorist, and the narrator and major characters reject him, as does Beck in the notes in the back of the book. Critics have mostly quoted this character’s idiosyncrasies as evidence of Beck’s unhinged status in reviews of the book, and that’s unfair. However, if the character’s views are admittedly inaccurate and extreme, as Beck says, then why are they in the book at all?
A final complaint: Orson Scott Card’s Empire is mentioned near the end. Alas, poor Orson, to be associated with such company as The Overton Window. I really don’t think this is what he had in mind.
Final Grade: F