I miss living in Washington DC so much. I miss the person I was trying to be in my late 20s-early 30s. I love a lot about who I am now, but I don’t feel like I personally can make the world a better place anymore. Reading Emma Barry’s The Easy Part series, Special Interests, Private Politics and Party Lines, sent me on a major nostalgia bender, each in it’s own way. The neighborhoods were familiar, down to some of the specific places I used to hang out (Tryst, it’s comfy couches, and indifferent coffee). Barry captured the way it feels to be in that late 20s/early 30s working in and around politics, not naïve, but not totally cynical yet, period of life. Washington DC is many cities coexisting in the same place, one of them is young, plugged into the machinery of government, and ready to take the world by storm.
Emma Barry has quietly moved onto my list of favorite authors. She makes work integral to her characters in a way that resonates with me. For all of the main characters in this series, their work is fundamental to who they are as a person, which makes how they balance romance and work life central to the story. I particularly appreciated the double burden that the women in Barry’s books carry – falling in love and making room for a new relationship in a career focused life.
Special Interests and Private Politics focus on roommates Millie and Alyce, both of whom work for non-profits. Before the series starts, Millie has had a couple of experiences that have shifted her sense of self – she turned down a marriage proposal, and she was taken hostage by a man in a chicken suit with a gun she didn’t realize was fake. When she meets Parker, who works for a ranking Senator, she’s still trying to understand this new version of herself. Once Parker settles into the idea of dating Millie, he goes from “let’s see if I’m still interested in a couple of weeks” to “she’s the one I’m going to marry” very quickly, while Millie is still figuring out how Parker fits with the new Millie and of course it’s temporarily a disaster.
I won’t spoil the scenario that brings Liam and Alyce together in Private Politics. Liam has been infatuated with Alyce for months, but Alyce hasn’t shown much interest. Liam is certain that Alyce is way out of his league and Alyce is too insecure to believe Liam could be interested in her beyond her shiny surface. She is also facing a possibly career ending situation. When they do hook up, they are so guarded and defensive that they almost torpedo the relationship before it has begun. Continuing the theme from Special Interests, Liam is much more certain of what he wants than Alyce, but like Millie, Alyce is worried she has more to lose – specifically her self and her ambitions.
Party Lines, written in 2015, was a tough read because it’s a romance between a Democrat and a Republican. The book isn’t dealing with the Trump version of the Republican Party, or the version that’s dominated by evangelical Christians and White Supremacists. Though I am very much to the left politically, I used to have Republican friends and I feel a nostalgia for a time when I could tell myself “reasonable people can disagree” about political positions. My bad feeling about Republicans really started in 1994 with Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America, or as my boyfriend at the time, a former Democratic Hill Staffer, called it, “The Contract on America.” I fully acknowledge that the nostalgia for a time when reasonable people could disagree is probably very white of me. I had to put this in an alternate reality where the Republican party wasn’t already showing signs of going full fascist.
Michael has been working on Democratic campaigns for years, but he was born jaded. Lydia is staffing her first Republican Presidential campaign and wants to prove she is more than a token for the campaign to trot out. They keep running into each other on the campaign trail, but Lydia can’t see how a relationship would work despite the sparks between them. Once I ensconced them firmly on a similar but separate Earth, Michael and Lydia were my favorites. Lydia has such a sharp sparkling light that it made complete sense to me that Michael would begin pining for her.
It felt very relatable to me that the men in these books were much more certain of what they wanted from their relationships than the women. It conforms to my experience of dating in DC and what I observed from others. A lot of my friends got married in that time when we were in DC. All of the women eventually gave up big pieces of their professional ambitions to marry and have families. Very few people end up having exactly the career they imagined at 25, and I suspect most of my friends are happy with the choices they made. That said, it always struck me as unfair that the women carried more of the burden than the men they married. Barry taps into that very real fear of compromising a woman’s professional ambitions for a man, and then she gives her women men who will do more of the compromising.