Reviewed by Bob Williams
The 7th Candidate
by Howard Waldman
2007, ISBN 978-1-905202-50-8, $17.99, 319 pages
Howard Waldman is an American now living in France. This is his third book.
A badly flawed businessman lives in a badly flawed country whose identity is never given. It was ruled by a monarchy, and is now a republic but has been lurching along with no healthy signs. Extremists of both wings are determined to impose themselves, after the way of such, on the people at large. In this situation Edmond Lorz finds himself with a mildly profitable business of restoring billboard advertisements that have been defaced by vandals with obscenities and political slogans.
Terrorists bomb the building in which Lorz has his company, Ideal Poster. He and an applicant – the seventh candidate of the title – are injured. Lorz recovers and is able to return to his business after a recuperation of two months. He has lost his assistant Dorothea Ruda, who has under the influence of a new friend transformed herself from a mousy woman willing to submit to exploitation by her employer to a brassy and assertive woman.
The candidate remains in the hospital. No one knows who he is and the staff members call him Teddy after a brand name found in his clothing. Although no longer in a coma, he is immobile and catatonic. Dorothea visits him daily and Lorz shows up almost by accident. The injured applicant renews the bond between Lorz and Dorothea who returns to her old job although on her own terms and with no diminution of her new self.
Over the months the candidate progresses in his recovery. The determination of his doctors is that he shall be placed forever in an institution but his recovery seems to exceed their expectations. (Waldman divides his novel into parts and may let great chunks of elapsed time take place between the parts, off-stage as it were.)
In an effort to defeat the permanent institutionalization of Teddy, Lorz and Dorothea give him a job with Ideal Poster where his compulsive need to correct damaged posters serves in a way to pass the careless inspection of the hospital board. In reality Teddy is a sore trial to Lorz and Dorothea as, exhausted, they follow, cajole, and control the wayward and often stubborn young man. Rivalry between Dorothea and Lorz create almost as many problems as their ward. Waldman describes this in detail and we see the two pitted against each other and against the hospital board while they struggle with the often recalcitrant Teddy.
That all this is a recipe for total disaster they never recognize. They sink deeper into misery. Waldman details their spiral downwards with meticulous detail. This is a bleak book which ends on a barely qualified note of endurance persisting over adversity. It is a competently written book with vivid characterizations. Waldman’s skill in depiction of the desperate straits of a forlorn man and woman is compelling and carries the reader from beginning to end effortlessly. Recommended.
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places