Why is it so hard to write decent political fiction? Can someone answer that question for me, please? There’s a glut of mystery, romance and science fiction novels. Why is it so hard to write about politics? Is it just because we often read for escapism, and politics is part of what we are trying to escape? Perhaps. But given the drama, high stakes, and many opinions contained in stories about politics, I don’t understand why it isn’t a more fertile ground for fiction.
Steven Wright’s debut novel is so good that it’s incredible to think this is his first book. He has a great sense of characters, place, and plot. His book, which I have to assume drew heavily from his own experiences, is a nuanced take on how dark money influences local politics. Yes, it’s cynical but it’s honest about its cynicism. Gaming elections is just another service to offer in a capitalist society.
I think what makes this book special is that it’s satire with focus. On some level, it’s critiquing the 2016 election but it functions best as a send up of the whole system that Americans decry but don’t want to do anything about. And the ones that do are distracted by money, power, and privilege.
It would be easy for the main character Andre to be taken in wholly by his cynicism but he, and the story, find humanity in the people around him. Wright is a smart enough author to keep Andre, who is Black, at a distance from the characters who are white and conservative in a revanchist sense. But there is enough interaction to show how the levers of the system work and how communication and solidarity are stifled by America’s white supremacist system.
The book isn’t perfect, particularly with the cloying ex-girlfriend love angle that’s supposed to make Andre seem like more of a sad sack (he already is). But that’s a minor detail. This is a great book from a fresh voice. I hope Steven Wright writes more of these.