Jill Lepore’s “The War and the Roses,” in this week’s issue, is extraordinary, as extraordinary as Norman Mailer’s “Miami and the Siege of Chicago,” which is the only literary precedent I can think of that resembles it. Like Mailer, Lepore sees the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with her own eyes and her own words, “see it by the warp or stance of my character,” as Mailer expressed it in the Preface of his great 1976 collection of convention pieces, Some Honorable Men. What makes their convention reporting extraordinary is the writing – great gusts of description and perception – this one, for example, “The War and the Roses” ’s superb opening paragraph:
What this passage shows, among many other amazing things, is the spectacle of a great journalist suddenly taking, with powerful sureness, a daring creative leap. She turns her back on the “grievously vexed” proceedings she’s been describing inside the Quicken Loans Arena and cuts to the Public Square where “the Elect Jesus people are giving out free water, icy cold, and the police are playing Ping-Pong with the protesters, and you can take a nap in the grass if you want, and you will dream that you are on a farm because the grass smells kind of horsy, and like manure. . . .” It’s an inspired Maileresque move, showing an alternative to the “fear and division” inside the Convention hall. Lepore is a brilliant stylist. “The War and the Roses” is her masterpiece.