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Alternative Culture Magazine

Uncommon Reason: A novel of peace in time of conflict, turmoil and terror

by Colin D. Mallard

review by Nowick Gray

David Tremaine is no ordinary President of the United States.  Thrust into power by the death of President Emerson -- a Democrat who broke a Republican stranglehold on US power thanks to a decisive scandal in an election year -- Tremaine brings to bear all the wisdom of his background as philosophy professor and peace activist.  Colin Mallard’s novel proceeds on this premise: What would happen with a true sage in the White House?  He is able to carry it off convincingly with his own background as a teacher and writer of philosophy, Unitarian minister, peace and Civil Rights activist, student of Indian spirituality, and author of a contemporary version of Lao-Tzu’s the Tao Te-Ching.

The language of the novel, including the many speeches and interviews with the eloquent President Tremaine, is plain and concise, making accessible and understandable the timeless wisdom expressed.  The challenges are all-too realistic: the endless exchanges of violence between Palestinians and Israelis; the hard-line policies of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and key US Senators; and ultimately, the real-life terrorist attacks on New York and Washington of Sept. 11, 2001.  Where this alternate history and actual history fully come together is with the latter events; and it is in the patient, insightful response of President Tremaine that the novel’s ethos departs most radically from the knee-jerk counter-terror of George W. Bush.

The novel accepts at face value the assumption that “terrorists” were responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, in order to deal fully with the implications of that global reality and its roots in injustice and oppression.  (Whether the Bush Administration was complicit in or even orchestrated these crimes in order to further its own geopolitical and domestic agenda is not considered).  Further exploring the dynamics of terrorism, Uncommon Reason follows the story of a clan of Palestinians caught in the brutal crossfires of Middle East violence and reprisal, painting sympathetic human portraits on both sides of the issue.  In the process the Israeli, particularly the hard-line Zionist, position is subjected to more probing scrutiny than is commonly found in the Western press.

The living, breathing, loving, suffering, questioning humanity of all the characters is simply and eloquently portrayed.  The depth and breadth of the wise President’s views on most issues of pressing concern in today’s world is carried out in private conversation (featuring also the original thinking of Tremaine’s highly intelligent and articulate First Lady, Sandra), in high-level negotiations with Congressman, generals, and diplomats, and in public addresses and question-and-answer sessions. 

Uncommon Reason is a genuine page-turner, a realistic thriller with flesh and blood as well as wisdom and analysis. If there is any quibble to be made about the craft, it is that listeners and askers of questions here are more forgiving and helpful than one expects.  All too often a questioner, even with a contrary agenda to pursue, simply asks, “What do you mean by that?” or “Could you explain further?”  This kind of exchange may be common to a philosophy classroom but is hardly typical of a political forum or debate.  The device can be forgiven, however, in serving the higher purpose which the novel uniquely embodies: the injection of true and timeless wisdom into contemporary political discourse.


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