From Fourth International, Vol.17 No.2, Spring 1956, pp.69-70.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Last Hurrah
by Edwin O’Connor
Little, Brown and Co., Boston. 1966. 427 pp. $4.
To judge from the high-powered ballyhoo of the hucksters over this book, the publishers are determined to make it a best seller no matter what its merits might be. However, if this has created an unfavorable impression in your mind, overlook it and borrow a copy from the public library. That is, if you go for characters and humor of the Damon Runyon kind.
This is the sentimental story of an allegedly typical big-city machine boss whose evil reputation hides a heart of gold and a mind like a razor. An adept in the principles of machine politics, he knows that he means must conform to the end, including promising everything to everybody and clinching it by stuffing the election boxes.
So he’s as crooked as a Boston alley. You can’t help liking the guy anyway, once you get to know him, as Adam and Maeve did once Adam succumbed to temptation and bit into the apple proffered him by Skeffington from the tree of political knowledge.
And, after all, if Skeffington puts the squeeze on the rich it’s in the interest of the poor whom he loves and whom the rich exp1oit and oppress by refusing to replace the slums with decent housing despite the campaigns of the mayor.
Sure, he pads the city payroll with clowns and deadbeats and ward heels and sees that the contractors who back him never lack civic holes into which to pour their concrete. But even Robin Hood had to keep his merry crew in roast goose.
Mayor Frank Skeffington’s crew is a merry one for sure and their antics campaigning for re-election of their chief are better than a trip through the fun house. They are supposed to represent the Irish immigrants who barged into New England politics as the royal road out of the slums. Their day, as typified by the rule of Skeffington, is passing.
That is due to the new pattern of federal handouts, social security, etc., established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt and this is the last chance to get an inside seat on the old-time, torchlight, tub-thumping campaign of the benevolent and paternalistic kind of pre-Roosevelt machine boss. The Big Business puppets, stuffed with sawdust and greenbacks and dangled on a reform platform, are out to take over from the lovable old rascal.
The characters are grotesque. Many of the situations are mechanically conceived. The author’s view of politics, its class basis and dynamics is superficial, carrying the seal of the Samuel Lubell (The Future of American Politics) school of political housekeeping. Capitalist political gangsterism is prettied up. The Catholic hierarchy is whitewashed since we are told that they are trying to stay out of politics and are embarrassed by Skeffington – a pitch that should do sales no harm so far as the good will of the frocked politicians might be involved. Despite such glaring faults, the novel is marked by entertaining, if cynical, satire.
Some of the best highlights for me were the TV scenes – old skinflint millionaire Amos Force in ecstasies over free detergent entertainment until the station shuts down, and McCluskey’s principled reform campaign from his living room in opposition to Skeffington: Pope’s portrait on the wall, hired Irish setter on the floor, ever-loving wife with cookies and milk for mayoralty candidate hubby, and baby in rubber pants turning bottoms up right in the TV camera eye just before the fade out. Nixon should appreciate that reminder of his 1952 performance.
A number of bits are deadly, such as Little Simp, the satire on the Orphan Annie-type newspaper comic strip, the mayor ceremoniously handling the giant key of the modern city he heads to Fats Citronella, a visiting bop musician, the irreverent conversation of the mourners at the wake for Knocko Minihan ...
All the political speeches, of which there is no dearth, are such biting take-offs they sound like unexpurgated originals.
O’Connor’s book is not a great American novel, in my opinion, but it certainly makes pleasant reading.
Last updated on: 7 April 2009