I'm doing something a little bit different for this stop on the Coffee Pot Book Club tour for The Middle Generation. Normally, I would welcome author M.B. Zucker to the blog, as when he visited before. However, this time, I couldn't resist the opportunity to read his newly released novel and share my review with my dear readers. So, welcome to my blog's first book review!
As some of you know, I have great admiration for John Quincy Adams, the protagonist of The Middle Generation. I was captivated from the first page when I realized that Zucker had not only written about the great JQA, he had done so in first person from John Quincy's point of view!
And how intimidating! I have toyed with the idea of writing a novel about Dolley Madison, but I hesitate when I think about being tasked with writing dialog for the Great Little Madison. How could I sufficiently enter that amazing mind? So, I was enthralled to see how this author had done so with one of the most accomplished statesmen of the nineteenth century.
The book opens with Adams in a cabinet meeting where he is the smartest person in the room. He is always the smartest person in the room, and like most men who find themselves in this position, he knows it. I laughed to myself at his observations of Treasury Secretary Crawford (whose presidential candidacy I'm sad to admit James A Hamilton supported). It was a great start that sets the stage for the intellectual story interspersed with Adams snark that this novel promised to be.
We also see the more personal side of JQA, and how he holds his family to the same high standards to which he holds himself. This habit, inherited from his own parents, is damaging to relationships and many of the Adams clan that turn to alcoholism to escape it, but John Quincy, like his father before him, demands perfection.
When John Adams informs his son that he "must" achieve the presidency - and hold it for two terms, JQA feels the pressure even as an adult at that time serving as Secretary of State.
"It was now an issue of life and death. Failure would destroy me and my family. A disgrace for generations. Through history. My name synonymous with shame."
This just before Abigail rings in with her own dig at them both, "Yes! We shall have a two-term President in this family."
And you thought you came from a dysfunctional family!
This novel is introspective. It serves to give access to the reflections of John Quincy Adams to those who will never read his volumes of diaries. Having read some of the entries that have pertained to my own research, I believe Zucker has retained the character of JQA in the thoughts and dialog he has written for him. And there's lots of dialog. As is appropriate for a novel about JQA, more time is spent in conversation than in action, and those discussions take place with all of the biggest names of the day: Monroe, Calhoun, Clay, and a variety of foreign diplomats.
The reader gains an appreciation for the work of Secretaries of State that often gets little attention or respect. JQA worked tirelessly to gain the US status as a strong, independent nation, and he had a vision for his Presidency that would have benefitted Americans if they hadn't been so obsessed with the authoritarian brute they elected to replace him instead. Adams was, like many great men before him, too far ahead of his time.
This novel ends before he fully realizes that, with his inauguration and hopes still intact. Maybe Zucker will write more about JQA. I'd love to follow him through his presidency and the defense of the Amistad captives - those years where he fully recaptured any virtue he might have feared lost through his partnership with Clay.
I wish Americans were more interested in these formative years of the early 19th century. If you are, I recommend picking up this book.
The Middle Generation: A Novel of John Quincy Adams and the Monroe Doctrine
by M.B. Zucker
With his signature dialogue and his close study of Adams’ 51 volume diary, M. B. Zucker’s The Middle Generation is a political thriller and character piece that surpasses his achievement in The Eisenhower Chronicles and ascends to the cinematic heights of the historical epics of David Lean and Steven Spielberg. It is an unforgettable portrait and a leap forward for one of our rising historical fiction novelists.
Connect with M.B. Zucker
M. B. Zucker has been interested in storytelling for as long as he can remember. He discovered his love of history at fifteen and studied Dwight Eisenhower for over ten years. Mr. Zucker earned his B.A. at Occidental College and his J.D. at Case Western Reserve University School of Law. He lives in Virginia with his wife.
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