Monday, August 19, 2013

The GQ Candidate + Government Girl

The GQ Candidate by Keli Goff, 2011
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster

Rating: 3/5

IQ "Well, there's not much left to say except that I'm really glad I wore my Manolos today, because if I'm going to insert my foot this far in my mouth I at least want to be wearing nice shoes", Mimi pg. 349
Luke Cooper started out as a state senator and was then recruited to run on the Michigan governor's ticket as lieutenant governor, they won but due to a sex scandal Luke became Michigan's first Black (and Jewish by adoption) governor and one of the youngest governor. His ratings are soaring and due to some remarkably good luck concerning acts of goodwill (such as defending a white nationalist from injury while a group of white nationalists were protesting his policies) that involved social media the rest of the country has a vague inkling of who he is. Some of his friends and mentors advise him to run for president and he throws his hat into the ring for the Democratic presidential nomination. With the help of a loyal, talented group of friends Luke feels confident with his decision to enter the race but it will affect those he loves far more than he could have ever imagined.

It felt like the author was sick of upper class/upper middle class Black people not being portrayed in fiction so she peppered her novel with them. I understand and appreciate her intention but the delivery left a lot to be desired. Luke's family was cheesy in its perfection, even its quarrels felt forced and ridiculous. Everyone had these great personal backgrounds from the oldest characters being Freedom Riders to the youngest being successful and powerful in their respective careers. Not all characters were perfect but it was hard to focus on their flaws when I could barely keep them straight. The narration plodded on and I think the author should have instead focused on Luke and his immediate family instead of Luke's family, friends and his friends of friends. The book was very long in order to accommodate all these characters and the gazillion plot lines (or so it seemed) which was frustrating when the book reached the end and a rather dramatic moment was rushed through. Furthermore the book ends with Luke making a crucial decision and although I can guess what he chooses, I think that since this book was all about politics (in a way) it should have ended with him actually making a political decision.

This book is about a presidential campaign but politics do not enter the equation which keeps it from being a polarizing read due to controversial issues. While Luke is a Democratic, a variety of political affiliations are mentioned but since the issues are not delved into its inconsequential. Instead the book focuses on how political campaigns are run, the people behind the scenes of the candidate, the media's relationship to a campaign and networking and fundraising. It was nice to read a book with such a dream cast, I just wish the author had either taken the presidential campaign storyline out of it (and instead focused on a group of highly educated Black friends post-college living life) or narrowed down the cast of characters. The book was a slow read but Luke and his friends are a highly entertaining bunch, try to ignore the lack of plot and while you will most likely get frustrated at the ending The GQ Candidate is still a good read.

PS Fact: I bought this book at my Borders as it was closing. So this book will always be associated with that, I even still have the receipt that says 'final sale'. Sadness

PPS: I know everyone else read this as Barack Obama-like but I actually related Luke Cooper more so to Cory Booker. Anyway just a thought

Government Girl: Young and Female in the White House by Stacy Parker Aab 2010

Rating: 2.5/5

IQ "If I have one wish for America, it is my hope that when our leaders stumble, as they will, when they hurt others and themselves, which is inevitable, that we will be as compassionate to them as we sense they would be with us if the faults were our own. Our leaders are not gods, and they are not our fathers. But they can be our best hope for peace among nations", pgs. 291-292

Stacy Parker Aab's memoir details the life of a young, biracial White House staffer. She was born (1974) and raised in Detroit and attended George Washington University where she became an intern at the White House, working in George Stephanopolous' office. Eventually she began working for Paul Begala as his special assistant.

My summary is brief because unlike the back of the book I'm not trying to claim that this memoir provides "a searing look at the dynamics between smart young women and the influential older men who often hold the keys to their dreams". It didn't reveal much about gender relations in the Clinton White House but it did provide a look at the daily atmosphere. However the stories shared are not that interesting, while I didn't want scandalous tidbits (indeed it took me awhile to recover from the story of Vernon Jordan sexually harassing her because I admire that man immensely) I did hope this memoir would provide some interesting anecdotes. Instead since Aab was never that high up this book is more of a day-by-day look at the work of young staffers, people who are important to the functioning of our government but who don't interact with that many people of name-recognition. I also thought that the author spent a lot of time bragging about herself, making sure we knew how loved she was in Stephanopoulous' and Begala's office. Furthermore she was determined to gloss over any issues that might have made her more interesting, instead she focused on portraying herself as the perfect staffer (there was about 2 sentences about drug use that held up her security clearance but she doesn't go into further detail). It just rubbed me the wrong way which I grant is a matter of personal taste. I also wish she had went into more detail about her life post-White House, especially meeting her husband, since she goes on and on about wanting a boyfriend but then rarely talks about her relationships (which she doesn't have to do but then why talk about how important having a boyfriend was to her?). Finally, the end part about the Obamas fit oddly into the book and seemed more like her way of sharing her thoughts about their presidency rather than connecting the dots to her time in the White House (except for mentioning that they hired some veteran Clinton staff).

I did find it fascinating to read about the inner-workings of the staff (for a time and then it got old) such as "RON"s (remain overnight), people who were in charge of paving the way for the president at whatever hotel or celebrity home he stayed at on his travel. Those are roles that we definitely don't think about and I was also appreciative at the glimpses of humanity displayed in the Secret Service men she talked about since they seem like daunting, mysterious figures (which is their job to do but still). Overall Government Girl left me disappointed because I had expected it to be more exciting, at the very least, I wish the protagonist had focused more on being genuine and less on presenting a perfect good girl image. It does a good job though of giving people an idea of daily life for the young men and women who are so helpful to the 'big names' and really keep our government running, I am grateful to them.