A parable about a woman’s education in Washington politics, as she pursues a career full of frustrated hopes.
Gibney, the author of a study of evolution (Evolutionary Philosophy, 2012) and a short story writer, spent the bulk of his professional career working in the political beltway, pulling stints in the massive bureaucracies of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Drawing on that expertise, he offers a fictional examination of Washington’s perennial dysfunction. Justine Swensen arrives in the nation’s capital from Minnesota with strident, idealistic aspirations of government as an agent of social change. Intoxicated by a new senator’s promises to transform government for the better, she starts out as a staffer in his office, brimming with enthusiasm. However, she quickly learns that his promises are more rhetoric than reality, and she embarks on a career in various jobs in D.C. politics. Justine is serially disenchanted with the House Appropriations Committee, the Government Accountability Office, the Office of Management and Budget, and the Department of Homeland Security, to name a few. Each time, corruption and cynicism crush her high hopes; she even tries her luck in the private sector before finally running for office herself. This novel doubles as a sort of American civics textbook, explaining the functions of each agency while adding the spice of insider knowledge. It’s bookended with references to Ayn Rand’s brand of libertarianism, which provides philosophical power to the concluding moral: “In the private sector, you were able to see the futility of any single job in just a few years because your companies were so small and could fail so quickly,” Justine says. “The government though is so sprawling and so stable that it took me an entire career to just figure that out.” The book can be a bit didactic, as it’s somewhat heavy-handedly structured to provide a lesson in the grim reality of American politics. (The final chapter is even titled “The Moral of the Story.”) Still, its crisp dialogue (“Is lunch going to be enough or do I need to apologize for all of DC?”) and deep knowledge of Washington’s inner workings make it an edifying read.
A philosophically charged critique of government, couched in the form of a novel.