Joe McGinnis is billed as the author of The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin but in actuality he, not Palin, is the book's main character. The opening line of his expose on the former Alaska governor and 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee? "I moved in next door to Sarah Palin today."
Throughout the book, we are served generous helpings of what McGinnis saw, how he feels, what he ate for lunch. (A local Thai restaurant receives a negative review, but the king salmon a source feeds him for dinner is so good you would to have to stomp on it "in a manure pit and then boil it in yak piss for a week to render it anything less than sublime.")
McGinnis purports to be very upset that the Palins, Glenn Beck and anonymous conservative Internet commenters took such strong exception to him moving next door. They posted something on Facebook! They called him a stalker! They implied that he was gawking at Palin in a tank top through binoculars! First Dude Todd Palin called a magazine article McGinnis wrote about his wife "bulls--t!"
Even if all of that is unfair, McGinnis's neighborhood watch program is an annoying and obtrusive literary device. The publisher praises him as a paragon of "New Journalism" and "one of the few such participatory writers still at the top of his game," but if that was what they were going for, they would have been better off exhuming Hunter S. Thompson.
Although it might have been more accurately titled Bedtime for Gonzo, The Rogue does manage to give us salacious details about its alleged subject, Sarah Palin. We learn, or are at least told, that "Kerm Ketchum got Sarah good and stoned." She had sex with basketball star Glen Rice and later wailed, "I f--ked a black man!" (Rice for his part says he detected no racial prejudice from Palin, who later in the book is accused of firing all the minorities in the governor's office.)
We are informed that Palin is an inattentive mother who would burn water and couldn't make grilled cheese. An unnamed "friend" is allowed to imply Palin has an eating disorder: "One day she came in with Oreos, bread, bags of fast good, and she ate everything and then disappeared and came out of the bathroom later with blurry eyes, her hair up, and her knuckles red." The only thing that might have completed the picture is a story about how they bow before porcelain gods at the Palins' right-wing church.
McGinnis stops short of endorsing the conspiracy theory that Palin did not give birth to her son with Down syndrome. But he does repeat all arguments people use to support such claims. He seems to conclude that even if the allegations aren't true, the Palins deserve them.
Is any of this true? The book is such an unrelenting hatchet job that any reader who doesn't already hate Sarah Palin will find it difficult to accept the author as an honest broker. The consistently unflattering portrait is often contradictory. Palin is supposed to be a drinker of "evangelical Kool-Aid" and also a regular at parties where "the cocaine was free-flowing."
At one point, the Palins are shown to have no control over their son Track, who simply swears at them and leaves the house at will. Yet later, we are told that the Palins forced Track to enlist and go to Iraq in order to further their political aspirations. So which is it? The only thing we can be sure of is the definition McGinnis supplies for the word "rogue," since he is kind enough to give us the dictionary he referenced.
The Palins are found to have scarcely any virtues. The embittered former supporters interviewed in the book frequently suggest she was dumb and without much merit even when they were still in her camp, owing her election mainly to their ability to keep her on schedule and prevent her from blurting out her religious views. Glen Rice probably has the nicest things to say about Palin of anybody quoted in the book.
Real people aren't such one-dimensional cartoon characters. The book also ultimately fails to explain why anyone would follow the Palins, or how such inept bumblers could so carefully cultivate a public image at odds with reality. The closest McGinnis comes to an answer is in describing Wasilla, Alaska as a city filled with religious zealots, drunks, and people who home school their children to conceal abuse.
The Palins are reportedly angry about this book. They shouldn't be. If even a fraction of its accusations are true, the author's attempt to be the Kitty Kelley of New Journalism has guaranteed that few neutral readers will believe them.