The Candidate is a charismatic conman so afraid of failure that he is obsessed with attaining success at all costs. The novel opens when he dazzles at an academic interview and subsequently appoints himself. No one calls his bluff because everyone is afraid to admit they missed the appointment meeting that never occurred.
He rapidly rises through the ranks using his charm and a variety of scams until he becomes president of the entire university and is eventually convinced by his supporters to take a run at the White House.
The novel reaches a climax at the presidential debate in which The Candidate is dressed as an aboriginal tribal chief to secure the minority vote in a battle against Bill Clinton - going for an unprecedented third term - and a Republican candidate whose entire campaign platform is based on the legalization of drinking and driving.
The Candidate is like Peter Carey's Bliss in its blend of absurdist comedy with literary fiction, or Woody Allen's Zelig in the way it uses fantastical plot elements to lampoon our almost pathological fear of failure and thirst for success. It draws as much on my love for the Marx Brothers and W. C. Fields, as it does from my own time spent as a research scientist at Caltech. With a huge cast of bizarre and hilarious characters The Candidate is guaranteed to entertain, while turning out to be strangely prophetic of the increasingly circus-like atmosphere of the post-Trump US political landscape.