Slacker speechwriter can’t remember when he last had an uncynical thought—then falls in love.
Ben Bergin is the worst kind of person you’d want working on a political campaign, or the best, and one of the merits of former speechwriter Mizner’s efforts here is that it’s difficult to tell which you’re supposed to think. A knock-around writer of sorts in his late 20s, Bergin affects a studied cynicism that he well knows is just a mask over growing despair: “It’s a story of sideline standing, of cleverly criticizing . . . of sleeping in and sleeping off, of laughing at myself and drinking to numb.” He’s a junior speechwriter for the campaign of Arnie Schecter, a New York congressman from Brooklyn who’s up for reelection—and, not surprisingly, the burned-out Bergin couldn’t really give a toss. He floats into the office after sleeping off the one he tied on the night before, and his drinking is now creeping into the daytime. He’s rudderless and in serious danger of becoming a walking casualty like Schecter’s campaign manager Danny, a horrid sight of middle-aged collapse, tamping down his desperation with food and cocaine. Just about all Bergin has to hang on to at this point is his coworker Calliopie Berkowitz, a shameless do-gooder who organizes the volunteers and flirts with Bergin during their regular rooftop smoke breaks. Not surprisingly, the self-destructive Bergin manages to snuff out whatever flame there might have been between him and Callie, and he spirals further into a sort of Gen-X self-immolation before finally being thrown a lifeline. First-novelist Mizner relates his scabrous tale with a welcome lack of hypocrisy, meaning that Bergin is for the most part pretty irredeemably awful, something no amount of self-awareness can erase: it’s this honesty that gives the novel its potent kick.
A jolting tour through the lower depths of the political machine so often shrouded in darkness and rhetoric.