Monday, July 14, 2014

O, Democracy!: O, Silly, Silly Politics

A "Rapacious British Oil Company" has just received permits to dump pollutants into Lake Michigan. It's crazy, but it's perfectly legal. So the Senator for whom our protagonist Colleen works in Kathleen Rooney's fantastic under-the-radar, indie-published novel O, Democracy! holds a press conference to denounce this burgeoning environmental disaster. But the Senator's opponent in the upcoming election holds another press conference and claims that dumping toxins in the lake helps create jobs, and also, there's "some evidence" that plants and animals that live in the lake use these pollutants as food.

It's preposterous! But this anecdote perfectly captures one of the main themes of this novel: That politics are ridiculous. As the staffers for the Senator discuss later, they're sure that at least 50 percent of voters will believe that plant and animal life will actually benefit from swimming in toxic industrial waste — not because it possibly could be true, but because they want to believe anything their candidate says and disbelieve whatever the other guy says. It's not about being factually accurate, it's about muddying the waters just enough to plant seeds of doubt — especially among "low-information voters."

Yes, politics are ridiculous. As Rooney says, they're also funny in a "have-to-laugh-or-you'll-probably-cry kind of way." And that certainly shines through in this novel about Colleen's experiences as a staffer for the Senior Senator from Illiniois. It's the summer/fall of 2008, and election fever — both for the Senator's re-election and for the Presidential election, which includes the Junior Senator from Illinois — is in full pitch.

This novel is based on Rooney's own experiences on Senator Dick Durbin's staff between 2007-2010. Rooney's fictional stand-in for herself, Colleen, dodges blatant sexual harassment by the smarmy yet somehow likeable chief of staff, deals with ridiculous requests from the public (can the Senator get me an extension on my mortgage so I'm not foreclosed on? Help!) and extremist protest groups, and trains new interns, including a former dancer for the Chicago Bulls (a Lovabull) who has dubbed herself J-Lock, and who annoys Colleen to no end.

The big hook for the novel is when Colleen comes into possession of a video that would absolutely destroy the Senator's opponent. She has to decide whether to make the video public — to play dirty politics, as the Senator's opponent, a despicable politician who is using every dirty trick in the book, is.

If you're interested in politics, especially those of the left-leaning variety, you'll love this novel. Rooney doesn't use any real names of people, and the Senator's opponent is totally invented, but if you know politics and Chicago, you'll be able to easily tell who she's talking about. I actually really liked this part of the novel — because when you can decipher her clues, you feel like you're in on the joke. And, each reference – to the 39th governor of Illinois who is currently in jail for corruption (George Ryan) or the current (in 2008) governor of Illinois who has ridiculous hair and will soon go to jail for trying to sell the Junior Senator's seat (Rod Blagojevic) — feels like a trivia contest. So it's just fun! (Oh, and the Rapacious British Oil Company? BP, obviously.)

Anyway, this is a small press book that really deserves a wider readership. It's a novel that's as infuriating as it is entertaining. I loved it!

1 comment:

  1. Just finished this - picked it up off your recommendation. I really enjoyed it. It was odd how she described things instead of using their names, I'm sure I missed several references. But I loved the look into the politics and the overall story and writing style. Thanks for the recommendation!