Should political thrillers reflect today’s political climate?

Novels aren’t true stories. They are created with the intent to entertain. But can a novel influence the way the reader interprets the world? Do certain novels have a duty to reflect the world around us?

When I think of the novels that have a wide influence on our society, The Grapes of Wrath immediately comes to mind. As he prepared to write The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck wrote: “I want to put a tag of shame on the greedy bastards who are responsible for this [the Great Depression and its effects].” Steinbeck also famously said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” When it was published in 1939, the novel was publicly banned and copies of it were even burned. In the end, however, it was The New York Times best-selling book of 1939, and it also won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Steinbeck, while he was called a propagandist and a socialist from both the left and the right of the political spectrum after the book’s publication, won the Nobel Prize for Literature for writing The Grapes of Wrath in 1962.

While Steinbeck didn’t have 24 hour news media, reality TV and the Internet to battle against for people’s attention, shouldn’t we as authors have the same temerity as Steinbeck did to question our own status quo? With political thrillers, while they are written to entertain, shouldn’t there be some of the same, “let’s throw back the curtain and see who’s pulling the levers and, more importantly, why they are pulling the levers!” Isn’t that a responsibility that we have? We authors may be able to spin a good yarn, but shouldn’t we try to send a message, too?

But wait; if we’re trying to send a message with our scribblings, isn’t that just muddying the waters? Isn’t that trying to sway people to our way of thinking? The answer is yes, yes it is. I don’t pin myself to either political party, and my books reflect that fact. In fact, in The Brink, I made sure to not give away the political party affiliation of the president or any of the politicians involved (most of the time, in literature and film, the Republicans are the bad guys, go figure). My platform is that I just want to bring up the subject and hope that my readers take a little time to reflect on it a while. The Brink uses America’s debt crisis in its plot. The Campaign focuses on, spoiler alert here if you haven’t read it yet, our place in the rapidly-changing world and what are leaders are doing to cement that place. I think those are just some of the subjects we need to be focusing on as a team – because that’s what we are as Americans, we’re all on the same team. And right now, our team isn’t doing very well. Wouldn’t it be nice if something, a book, a TV show, the next Internet sensation, would come along and make us all stop being so divisive and start reading from the same playbook? I’m sure John Steinbeck would agree.