HARTSBURG, USA by David Mizner
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All politics is local in this engagingly warm novel that humanizes the country’s culture wars.

The second novel by former political speechwriter Mizner (Political Animal, 2004) could have been a slapstick satire, as it details a school-board campaign pitting a born-again Christian with a questionable past against a failed screenwriter who has returned to his Ohio hometown, bringing some of his Hollywood values with him. Though Mizner has fun with his characters, he is more concerned with illuminating them than with making fun of them. Both former Texan Bevy Baer, a member of the mega-church that seems to be the only growth industry in what was once an industrial town, and Wally Cormier, who has forsaken screenwriting to write a liberal column for a local newspaper, are likable characters—so likable that their circles of friendships in a small town almost inevitably intersect. Not only does their political rivalry leave some friends torn, but it leaves both of their households ambivalent as running an aggressive campaign disrupts family stability. Bevy wants to rescue the schools from the clutches of secular humanism and to require that Intelligent Design be taught as an alternative to evolution. Wally decides to run after he discovers that his beloved boyhood movie theater has become a fundamentalist church. In an unlikely but not preposterous manner, both candidates receive strategic advice from national political operatives, who push the campaign into morally murky territory where it might not have gone without them. There is something of a scandal on each side, the revelation of which threatens to brand both of these candidates as hypocrites, particularly after the national press starts to focus on this minor race in an unknown town as a microcosm of the country’s polarities. Though Wally is no literary critic, he has some sage advice for his wife, a writer of experimental fiction that goes unpublished: “Try writing stuff that’s fun to read!”

This is fun to read.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-1-59691-326-4
Page count: 368pp
Publisher: Bloomsbury
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2007