Bedside Manner: The Book of Levi
Alaskan redneck meets Greek tragedy
By Mike Crissey,
8:02AM, Mon. Oct. 3, 2011
How the hell do I explain this? Yes, this is a copy of Levi Johnston's tell-all on my bedside table. Yes, it's mine. Yes, I read it. What do you mean, who?
I hadn't known that the man (al)most famous for knocking up former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin's daughter had anything worthy of a whole book until a couple of weeks ago. I had been taking a mental break or I was multitasking (not “stealing time” or “goofing off”) and catching up on the world's events at The Huffington Post, Dlisted.com, or Hipster Runoff and saw a banner ad for Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs (Touchstone, $25). I could almost smell the rich Alaskan dirt but didn't think I could add it to my reading list. I had been saving room for one of the two books penned by Snooki from The Jersey Shore. But then I got Johnston's book for free.
I know I likely should have read a “better” book, especially when friends and co-workers have graciously loaned me more than suitable reading material. But I couldn't help myself. I know it's trash. I have a problem.
Johnston has plenty of fresh mud to throw around as he tries to recast his image, which I was hazy on until I read the book. But he and his writing team were careful not to slather it too thickly on one page. Instead, they offer sinful little spoonfuls on each.
I won't bore you with all those juicy details. None of them really surprising. What was surprising were some downright elegant passages hidden in what mostly read like the transcript of bar chatter. Like a touching section in the third chapter, “A Dog Named Ice,” that echoes Jack London or Ernest Hemingway. And there's another section in Chapter 11, which has the best scene-setting, where he seems to channel Harper Lee.
“A woman from Biloxi once told me that Alaska is a cold Mississippi. I like to think that she was referring to our independent spirit, but she was probably saying we both have our Bubba, our redneck similarities. Laundromats advertise bathroom showers along with washers and dryers. To rent an auto in Alaska, you sign a contract that stipulates 'No fish in car.' Every third business has arctic in its name; the young guys dress in camo wherever the hell the are. In my hometown, our largest food store, Carrs Supermarket, has a sign in the parking lot that says: ABSOLUTELY NO SALE OF PETS ON THESE PREMISES. The number of gun shops is about to be topped by the coffee bistros sprouting up all over town.”
I was surprised until I read the acknowledgements and discovered the book was basically a series of barroom bull sessions with a couple of ghostwriters who were supported by an agent, editor, transcriber, attorney, literary muse, blogger, another editor, and a researcher. One of these people is pretty well-read. My money's on the literary muse.
It certainly seemed to work on me. But how could it not? I forgot in all the mudslinging that this is a motherlode of a political family drama. We're talking about aspirants for the Second Family of the United States here. If they weren't already dead, the great Greek tragedians would die for this kind of material. There is hypocrisy, conspiracy, questionable parentage, sexless marriage, broken families, bastard children, suburban ennui, betrayal, white-washing, scapegoating, bears, nudity, overbearing parents, rebellious children, scandal, and cover-up. In this era of retconning, why not make a couple tired, old stories a little more relevant and add some star power. Here are a few ideas.
Medea, starring Levi Johnston as the title character in an update of the Euripides classic. Johnston plays a hockey-playing trophy redneck brought back from Jason's adventures at the Republican National Convention. He is a man betrayed by his woman, who decided he wasn't acceptable as a husband and kept him from his child. A story of a man trapped in a hockey-mom society and seeking revenge. With Bristol Palin as Jason and Sarah Palin as Creon.
To Kill a Mockingbird, starring Levi Johnston as Atticus Finch, representing the most hated man in Alaska (himself!) in a courageous fight in the court of public opinion and family court. With his son, Tripp Easton Mitchell Palin, as Scout; Sarah Palin as Bob Ewell; and Todd Palin as Boo Radley.
A Brave New World, starring Levi Johnston as John the Savage, the noble Alaskan redneck transported into the brave new world of the suburbs and national politics. With Sarah Palin as the beautiful and seductive Lenina and Bristol Palin as Bernard, the social climbing ugly ducking.
The Adventures of Pinocchio, with Levi Johnston, Bristol Palin, and Sarah Palin sharing the stage, taking turns as the titular character in this children's classic. They're all puppets. The real question: Who is Geppetto?
OK, one last try to make this redeemable. There are a handful of great quotes in the book. One of my favorites, came from Sherman “Tank” Jones, Johnston's “manager,” in an interview on CBS. “People questioned Jesus Christ, too, so I definitely don't care about these mere mortals questioning Levi Johnston. … People can question whatever they want. I mean, he's got to keep on doing his own thing.”