Dialogue: US election yet another odious, overblown plot

Once, at the height of my career as a teenage mess in Lower Hutt, I developed a kinky fixation with, of all things, Ted Kennedy's famous accident at Chappaquiddick - that unhappy accident where our Teddy Bear left his girlfriend to drown after drink-driving his car into a river.

This was an odd story for a Lower Hutt teenager to concern herself with, but I remember even now why it appealed.

It was a real-life story (that was certainly the way I took it then) in which every detail seemed simply too fantastic to be genuine.

It was an apparently true story that somehow utterly overdid itself with unnecessary dramatic twists, gratuitous evil and so on.

It was a story that rather underlined the fact that truth in the United States goes further than fiction as a matter of course.

It was a story that proved forever that the US is the place where God likes to push narrative lines - to see how far he is able take a story before it becomes completely stupid.

It was a story that was disturbing precisely because it knew no bounds. Each chapter of it was more odious than the last.

Following it, you could indulge in a sort of ascending frenzy.

The Chappaquiddick story had everything. Certainly, it had more than Lower Hutt.

There was the handsome, oversexed, even-then faintly ridiculous Senator Ted - the family's thinnest political hope who at that point had lost all three of his brilliant brothers, and was perhaps partying a lot for someone in mourning, and reportedly driving his depressed wife to alcoholism.

There was the too-beautiful Mary Jo Kopechne registering hard on old womanising Ted's radar at a twee bash on Martha's Vineyard. There was the tide of booze, and then there were Ted's overtures to Mary Jo.

Then, there was the wild and crazy drive together away from the party and the wild and crazy drive together into the river.

Then, there was Ted's miraculous escape from the car. Then, there was Ted's miraculous disappearing act - the rumoured running from the scene, and the hiding out, and the failure to call for help.

Then, later on, there was the awful news that Mary Jo could have been saved - that, although she was trapped, an air bubble in the car allowed her to breathe for more than an hour. Instead, Mary Jo met one of the less-than-pleasant ends - she drowned as the water seeped in and the air seeped out.

Then, of course, there were the conspiracy theories.

Then, even more perversely, there was Joyce Carol Oates' novel Black Water - a fictionalised retelling of the Chappaquiddick myth that extended the torturous aspects of the narrative by dwelling on them in supremely colourful detail.

The book is entirely given over to an imagined portrait of the hour the girl spent trapped in the car.

Unfortunately for the reader, the description is all-too-well imagined in Oates' hands.

The descriptions of the girl's attempts to keep her head clear of the rising water stay with the reader for considerably longer than is useful.

This is partly because readers go over it repeatedly, as compelled as they are repelled by this unchecked tale of glamour and horror.

To end it, the reader has to chuck the book out - there's simply no other way to leave the narrative behind.

American stories - even the real ones have no sense of proportion. They just run on and on until every conceivable angle is played out.

By that criterion, OJ Simpson walks. By that criterion, too, an election for the President goes undecided for a month.

It doesn't matter but it is somehow affecting and perhaps a little unsettling - this awareness of the United States as a place where, by divine design, no boundaries or rules apply.

Herald Online feature: America votes

The US Electoral College

Florida Dept. of State Division of Elections

Supreme Court of Florida

Supreme Court of the United States

Democrats and Republicans wage war online

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