Give Ken Starr credit for imagination. Most first-time authors produce stories featuring thinly disguised versions of themselves. Instead, in The Starr Report, Starr (and his chief coauthors, lawyers Stephen Bates and Brett Kavanaugh) have come up with a genre-bending narrative guaranteed to keep readers guessing. Ostensibly a tale of presidential perjury, Report defies classification. Just when you think you’ve got a soapy romance in your hands (”I need you right now not as a President, but as a man”), it abruptly turns into low-grade erotica (”He touched her bare breasts with his hands and mouth…[she] did perform oral sex on him”). Then it skids into a bedroom farce worthy of Feydeau (”I heard [Harold Ickes] holler ‘Mr. President,’ and the President looked at me and I looked at him and he jetted out into the Oval Office and I panicked”). At times, it also flirts with detective pulp and international-espionage thriller (the President of the United States believes a foreign embassy has intercepted his phone sex!) before finally morphing into an exceptionally dull courtroom drama.

The problem is that the book’s two stock characters, ”The President,” a slippery middle-aged rake, and ”Ms. Lewinsky,” a starstruck young woman, can’t live up to any of these genres. What we’re left with is an obsessively detailed account of a banal tryst, one that never quite reaches a climax — at least not the literary kind. Then the author’s strategy suddenly becomes clear: Written in the language of a government document, The Starr Report is actually mining the deadpan prose of great satire — Swift’s Modest Proposal, Twain’s Letters From the Earth. What Starr has given us is a devastating send-up of a contemporary D-Day: the national invasion of our privacy. Every embrace, every nuzzle, is exposed. The subtext, of course, is that it could happen to any of us — our own sex lives on newsstands everywhere. Starr’s dark satirical vision suggests that no one is above the law, and that the law and tawdry, dirt-dishing tabloid exposes have converged. A-