There’s a passage in the second chapter of Deborah Coyne’s recently released memoir, Unscripted, when she talks about her youth and meeting a KGB agent who was bodyguarding a Russian tennis player who was staying with her family.
I talked to the KGB chaperone quite a bit, quizzing the poor fellow about how he could bear to live in such a controlling and restrictive society. He solemnly replied that when you love your country you don’t abandon it, even if you don’t agree with its leadership and its rules. He thought it was each citizen’s responsibility to try to improve society for future generations. These conversations inspired me to understand the global forces shaping the world.
Note to Ms. Coyne: if the most passionate, patriotic statement about getting involved in politics you’ve ever remembered came from a KGB agent you met in your teens, you’ve got a problem.
Ms. Coyne, you should know, is one of the few candidates for the federal Liberal leadership who possesses some name recognition, and Unscripted is meant as a fundraising tool for her campaign: if you go to her website, they’ll mail you an electronic copy of the book if you donate $25. You can also get it from Kobo or Amazon for $2.99 CDN, which is in my estimation about a buck more than it’s actually worth.
The main problem with Ms. Coyne’s prose is that she crams in a lot of detail, at the expense of emotional depth. For example, she writes that she started to pay attention to Canadian and U.S. politics while growing up, but instead of explaining how this is accomplished (reading the papers? watching Knowlton Nash or Lloyd Robertson?) she veers into a short digression about what Canadian politics in general was like. She writes a bit about working for John Turner as a PMO adviser, but not about how she felt when Mr. Turner was defeated in 1984, putting her out of work.
Oh, and the stuff about Pierre Trudeau? We get some details about how the Trudeau family was a presence during her adulthood, but not really about when her emotions became strong enough to consider pursuing a relationship with him. Nor does she really deliver a sense of how Mr. Trudeau felt about her specifically, focusing instead on talking about his bond with his sons.
The closest she comes to being passionate is when she writes about her opposition to the Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords. In a sense that’s good, because we get a glimpse of how she thinks the nation should operate when she details her work with Clyde Wells and other opponents of Meech Lake, although oddly we get no emotional impression of Mr. Trudeau’s testimony condemning the Accord. But also, it’s bad, because we get the details but not the passion behind her opposition.
Is this a bad thing? Well, if you’re running for the leadership of a national party, you have ideas about how the nation should run, but can’t communicate them with some emotional resonance, then the odds of you actually getting the leadership are going to be rice-paper slim. Especially when you’ve got a front-runner who specializes in emotion-based charisma, who also happens to have just as big a claim to understanding Pierre Trudeau as you do.
I’m not a fan of Warren Kinsella’s Fight the Right, but one good thing I can say about that book is that Kinsella can write with passion. That’s an ingredient that’s missing in Ms. Coyne’s memoir, and I think that’s going to cost her during the Liberals’ leadership process.