It's the juice, stupid.
That is the admonition that Bill Clinton should have got from his editors at Alfred A. Knopf. And he would have done well to listen. The juice about what really went on with the dozens of unofficial women in his official life is what everyone, scribes and pharisees most of all, wanted.
Mark Steyn, the deliciously acerbic columnist who writes from the wilds of New Hampshire, describes the ex-president as "a cheesy Vegas lounge act acknowledging the applause of the crowd before launching into his opening number, 'I Get a Kick Out of Me.' " Tina Brown, a somewhat more admiring pundit, insists that Clinton's "glamour is undersung," describing him as "a man in a dinner jacket with more heat than any star in the room. He is vividly in the present tense and dares you to join him there." So we were prepared to join him in the present tense, waiting to be blown away.
Instead, we get a lot of past tense, a self-pitying account of growing up in Arkansas, plenty of psychological argle-bargle, and loads of wonkery. Only a smidgen of Gennifer Flowers, a little bit of Monica and a lot of excuse-making disguised as repentant confessional. In sum, a lot more of the Bill Clinton we know so well, with no surprises. If writing his autobiography has taught him anything about himself, he has hidden it well.
"My Life," by William Jefferson Clinton, is meant to be the literary sensation of the summer, moved up from September as a sop to John Kerry, who actually wanted it to come out after the election. The Kerry camp is famously terrified that if Bill "sucks all the oxygen out of the room" there won't be any left for John and the Democratic campaign. Democratic voters will be so bored with their new man that they'll sleep through Election Day. Nobody ever slept with Bill Clinton, if you'll excuse the mangling of a metaphor.
His editors could have used the extra weeks to pare the book to a more reasonable length. The early reviewers are brutal, as only jilted book reviewers can be. "The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull," writes Michiko Kakutani of the New York Times, in arguably the most important review of all. It is "the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."