Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Book Review: Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win

By Jami Deise

When I reviewed Jo Piazza’s Fitness Junkie last year (co-written with Lucy Sykes), I was impressed with the contemporary feel of the novel. Reading it made me feel like I had been plopped right onto the Upper East Side of New York City in 2017. Piazza’s current release, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, feels even more ripped-from-the-headlines. (Piazza also ghost-wrote the novel tie-in to the TV series show Younger – Marriage Vacation. When does this woman sleep?)

Protagonist Charlotte Walsh is a Senate candidate for Pennsylvania during the 2018 election, and reading Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win felt like spying on a real candidate. For someone as invested in politics as am I, reading the book is less of an escape from reality and more of an immersion into it. Readers who disdain politics might not reach for this book, but with a protagonist as strong, smart, determined—and flawed—as Charlotte, the novel is worth a read, even for those who don’t know Tammy Baldwin from Tammy Duckworth.

Charlotte seems based on Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, minus the personal tragedy. Like Sandberg, Charlotte is COO of a Silicon Valley company worth billions, and she and her husband Mark are part of the one percent of the one percent. She’s written books, had twins through IVF, and now she’s the Democrats’ best hope for taking the Pennsylvania Senate seat from an entrenched male Republican. The only thing she has to do is move back to her godforsaken Pennsylvania hometown, deal with her jealous alcoholic brother Paul, make sure Mark feels appreciated while he takes care of their three daughters under six almost single-handedly, and shake every hand in the state. Oh, and keep a giant secret about her marriage. No problem, right?

I wonder whether Piazza trailed a Senate candidate for a year to write this book, because it feels so authentic. She shows Charlotte kissing up to donors, judging county fair pie-baking contests, handling “gotcha” questions by the press, and other timeless details of campaigning. There are also the Twitter insults, the tracker from the rival campaign, up-to-the-second polling, Trump references, and a savvy Teen Vogue journalist, which place this election firmly in the current decade. Any fantasies that running for office would be fun are quickly dispelled by this book.

Charlotte does like to win. She’s also in the race because she feels Washington is broken like never before, and she’s a “fixer” who can help fix it. (That was also the name of her book.) But as the campaign grinds on, eating away at her sanity and her marriage, it also begins to eat away at her soul.

While there were plot elements I disagreed with (for instance, Mark is from this same small Pennsylvania town; having him a “fish out of water” would have been a stronger choice), overall, I loved this book. It reminded me of the Robert Redford movie The Candidate, although Charlotte is much better suited for politics than Redford’s character was. And there’s a plot twist about three-fourths of the way through that Piazza subtly sets up, which explodes all over the novel and takes it to a higher level. Charlotte becomes both more human and more monstrous when this happens.

The only thing I didn’t like about the book was its ending. In fact, I hated how Piazza chose to end it. With endings being the most important element of a book, practically defining how a book is classified, I don’t know why she picked the ending she did. I still recommend the book, and I loved everything that led up to the ending. But my recommendation comes with a warning: When you reach the last page, you will be disappointed.

Thanks to Simon & Schuster for the book in exchange for an honest review.

More by Jo Piazza:

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