Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Sammy's Hill

Since the presidential campaign season's been in full swing for about a year and we have another year to go, I figured I'd catch up on some political books I'd been meaning to read.

"Sammy's Hill" was near the top of the list. The Wasington Post describe's Kristin Gore's 2004 debut novel as "A chick-lit romp with a Capitol Hill twist" and that pretty well sums it up. It's a light, fun read with a likable heroine and some keen insight into what life is like in the Washington fishbowl. (Gore has also written a sequel, "Sammy's House," that came out in June.)

I like chick lit and I'm not ashamed to admit it. (I wish I could say I spend my reading time lost in literary classics, but that would be wrong). Still, I'm usually more interested in the world our heroine inhabits than in the ups and downs of her love life. (Have you noticed how these books always end on an up?) Plus, I like reading about politics, so the combination sounded great. I figured that Gore, being Al's daughter, would have some special insight.

Her heroine, Samantha "Sammy" Joyce, is a twentysomething staffer for Ohio senator Robert Gary. Sammy's specialty is health-care policy. She's hard-working, has a boss she truly admires, and, in a hallmark of chick lit, has her share of quirky personality traits.

For one thing, Sammy loves talking to telemarketers: "Over time, I had definitely developed favorites. Zelda from the phone company was one of the stars. I had her personal extension on speed dial and called her up periodically just to check on things."

She's also been a hypochondriac ever since taking a seminar on communicable diseases during her freshman year in college. "Since then, I had dedicated myself to doing the little I could to prepare for the disasters that were sure to befall my relatively defenseless body."

Gore has plenty to say about politicians, the legislative process, the media and the voting public, some of it serious and some of it brimming with satire.

To increase the chances of getting a health-care bill passed, Sammy's boss allies with a colleague whom Sammy considers "arrogant and slimy." (Her love interest is the arrogant, slimy senator's speechwriter). The legislation that she's labored so hard over is changed so dramatically that it ends up doing the opposite of what it was intended to do. "The bill was supposed to be about changing the system for the better, not compromising to the point of irrelevance."

This scene probably came right from conversation around the Gore family dinner table. At one of Senator Gary's town hall meetings back in Ohio, a farmer asks the senator about subsidies, a mother is concerned about overcrowded classrooms. Then, there's an older woman who "talked about how annoying it was that her neighbor had put the mulch pile right up against her fence and could RG call him and ask him to move it."

Gore takes a dig at the television networks' post-debate coverage and the focus on focus groups of ordinary voters. "I found the undecideds' ability to make up their minds incredibly annoying. And I suspected that their prolonged indecision was just a ploy for further attention, since they were such a wanted demographic."

My major criticism, and this seems par for the course in the chick-lit genre, is that for a smart, accomplished young woman, Sammy has a few too many damsel-in-distress moments, a few too many moments that make her appear somewhat flighty.

For me, the best parts of "Sammy's Hill" aren't the "chick" parts that chronicle Sammy's love interests, but Gore's description of the political process, how legislation gets passed, and the compromises that occur along the way.

"Sammy's Hill" is being made into a movie, and in March, producer Doug Wick said "It will do for Washington, D.C., what 'Talladega Nights' did for race car driving. We are going for a bold, subversive comedy."

No comments: