Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Book Review: Campaign Widows

By Jami Deise

There’s a common saying that Washington, D.C. is Hollywood for ugly people, and if you’ve ever seen a coterie of pretty young staffers orbiting around a fat wrinkled white man that folks call “Mr. Speaker,” that’s only half of it. The Hollywood part comes in when players are more concerned with the game they’re playing than with the people whose lives are affected by the laws that are passed or blocked on Capitol Hill.

Two novels about politics that hit the shelves this summer are getting a lot of press: romance writer Aimee Agresti’s Campaign Widows, and Jo Piazza’s Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win (review coming soon). Piazza’s book is for those who know the difference between a primary and a caucus; Agresti’s is for readers who like all the romance and drama of the race but might not be able to articulate the difference in the platforms of the two major political parties. It’s good to have choices!

The concept behind Campaign Widows is a look at the people who are left behind when their significant others hit the road during a presidential campaign. That road starts in January in Iowa and doesn’t end until November, leaving bodies and marriages along the way. The person left behind is in the odd position of wanting their significant other’s boss to win, but knowing that if the boss loses, life returns to normal.

The characters in this dilemma are Cady, a TV producer whose new fiancé works for a candidate; Jay, an internet producer whose boyfriend is a reporter assigned to another candidate; Reagan, a mother of toddler twins whose husband works for a third candidate; Madison, married to a Trump-like fourth candidate; and Birdie, a fundraiser with interest in all the campaigns and a husband who has his own life.

Campaign Widows is a funny book that follows the presidential election year, with events occurring at a fast clip—some predictable, some inspired. However, I had a lot of trouble keeping straight who was who. With multiple third-person points-of-view, the reader not only needs to remember each character’s storyline, but also their significant other, and which candidate the significant other works for. And there are other people in the main characters’ orbits as well to keep track of. Reading the book requires such a mental juggling act that I completely missed that Jay’s significant other, Sky, was male until I was almost done with the book. (However, I wholeheartedly approve of the completely blasé approach Agresti takes to same-sex relationships.)

Part of the reason why the book is difficult to follow is that Agresti takes care to never use the words “Democrat” or “Republican.” While that keeps the narrative from taking sides, it also prevents the reader from slotting characters into one camp or the other, which might have made it easier to keep track of everyone.

Although the story takes place in an alternate 2016, Agresti has created candidates that are more outlandish than the reality TV billionaire who became president of the United States. And it made me wonder, will 2020 bring a return to presidential candidates who were governors and senators… or will it be a contest between Kim Kardashian, Oprah, and Elon Musk?

When reality is more unbelievable than fiction, thank goodness we have authors like Agresti to escape with.

Thanks to Graydon House for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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