Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Domestic Affairs

by Bridget Siegel
Weinstein Books  2012
312 pages     Fiction

Olivia and Jacob are good friends who work on political campaigns, moving up the ladder of campaigns from state races to national races. Jacob has begun working for Landon Taylor's Democratic presidential run. He suggests to Taylor that he might consider Olivia for the position of fundraiser. When Taylor hires Olivia to be his head fundraiser, she becomes the youngest head fundraiser in history. Olivia is smart and pretty, and quickly becomes dedicated to the values Taylor appears to stand for, but soon, she blindly becomes dedicated to the personal charms of the charismatic Taylor. 

Told through the alternating experiences of Jacob and Olivia, the story moves through the beginning days of the campaign until just before the Iowa caucuses when the scene begins to unravel. Olivia is swept along with both the campaign and her love for Taylor, who shows himself again and again to be a cad. In the end, when he attempts for the umpteenth time to win her favor, Olivia looks at him honestly "wondering for the first time if she ever really did love him, or if she had just loved what he represented, what he pretended to believe." Facing up to her own personal dishonesty, she follows Jacob who has already gotten out of the campaign.

The question of Domestic Affairs is "Which political campaign is this book about?" The book's author, Bridget Siegel, worked on several political campaigns, including the John Edwards campaign. We have to assume that much of her experience and the resulting novel came from the Edwards campaign. One reviewer said: "It would be a better book if the events weren’t so close to what happened in the Edwards’ campaign, which ruined numerous lives in the real world. In the fictional world offered by the author, everyone moves on and nobody is hurt." And indeed, in the novel, Olivia and Jacob move on to the next campaign after their complete disillusionment with Landon Taylor. Will the next candidate disillusion them again, or are they older, wiser, and more realistic?

What Domestic Affairs successfully does is give a hard look at two aspects of politics that continue to baffle me: What motivates someone to choose politics as a life's work? and What is there in the personality of a candidate that makes him/her seek power? My husband's question would be: Does the personal life of a candidate matter if he/she can deliver the goods politically? I guess that we have seen this at work in the campaign of the formerly disgraced South Carolina governor, Mark Sanford. The electorate seems to think that he can deliver the goods despite his personal life. 

Most political novels are seen through the eyes of male protagonists. In Domestic Affairs, we see the campaign through the eyes of a woman. Siegel says that many of her experiences were used in the book, but her experiences were not unique. The events in the book were "a compilation of many campaign workers' struggles and surprises."

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