Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

clark-fcnpNo fewer than three currently hot novels contain scenes in our own fair Arlington.

And I’m not just talking about the Pentagon, the stuff of much pulp fiction, but quotidian landmarks.

These literary passages may prove that New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was wrong when she called Arlington a “soul-less suburb.” I credit my friend Elise Ritter Clough for steering me toward them.

Start with “Commonwealth” by award-winning Tennessee novelist Ann Patchett, who spoke at Kenmore Middle School last month. Her latest is a rich but unadorned five-decade narrative of split families that split their time between California and Virginia.

“Take a look around,” one character says while driving to Arlington from Dulles, “the passing landscape a multidimensional shade of green never witnessed in Southern California,” Patchett writes. Her drama built around the children’s “endless unsupervised summers of the commonwealth” describes the step-siblings’ “father running through the parking lot of his law office in Arlington to jump in his car and race to Charlottesville to see his son for the last time.”

Arlington, Patchett says, is “safer” than California’s Torrance. Yet when one parent moves in with a partner five miles away, she declares that “in Arlington it was possible to live miles from someone and never see them again.”

Let’s switch the genre to spy thrillers. Daniel Silva’s latest, “The Black Widow,” has his Israeli intelligence master seeking to head off an ISIS-inspired terror attack on Washington. Several chapter datelines are Arlington. “By that evening the intense efforts to prevent an attack were centered on a hotel at the foot of Key Bridge,” the novelist writes. But they were directed “instead to a chain bar-and-grill in the Clarendon section.”

Give Silva credit for avoiding the trap of mistaking Rosslyn and Clarendon for independent townships. He peppers his narrative with accurate references, as when a character “continued along Interstate 66 to the Rosslyn section of Arlington, where it turned into the surface parking lot of the Key Bridge.”

There are homey references to a Lee Highway exit, North Lynn Street, and Ft. Myer Drive, and a character stays at the Key Bridge Marriott.

Silva indulges in real estate snobbery, describing “a single woman who was trading her rented wreck on Capitol Hill for a cramped cottage in North Arlington, a steal at $700,000.” But the suspected terrorist lives in a small two-floor aluminum-sided duplex with a chain-link fence on Eighth Place in South Arlington.
More vivid are Arlington tidbits in the thriller “The Director,” by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. This international tale of a new CIA director coping with a cyber-attack sprinkles in mentions of “the concrete underpass that ran beneath North Glebe Road in Arlington,” Old Dominion Drive and Rock Spring, where “tall evergreens and stone walls shielded the properties.”

In a pungent scene, an intelligence agent “rolls up to the white-pillared clubhouse on Glebe Road in an embassy sedan and was met by a member of [the spy chief’s] protection detail. The director was around the other side on the back porch, sitting in a white Adirondack chair and admiring the view” of the 18th green lined by topiary. “In the distance was the Gothic bulk of the National Cathedral, and to the east, downriver, the obelisk of the Washington Monument.”
The author needn’t explain this was Washington Golf and Country Club.

Warm-hearted events unfolded last week chez two venerable Arlington nonprofits featured in this column.

On Sept. 28, Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic, which aids recovery from substance abuse, put on a ceremonial ground-breaking for construction of its new HITT Health and Fitness Center and renovated residential facility at 521 N. Quincy St. Its aerobic exercise equipment will help 1,200 addicts curb cravings.

On Oct. 1, the Woman’s Club of Arlington celebrated its 85th anniversary at its own South Buchanan Street clubhouse. Along with heavy hors d’oeurves, tea, and piano music, its leaders showed off its history going back to the early 20th century aiding the hungry and boosting schools and the environment. State Sen. Barbara Favola read a proclamation from Gov. Terry McAuliffe, promising she will sing the club’s praises in Richmond.