A political drama that follows a campaign novice’s attempt to win a Senate seat from a cynical incumbent.
Author Collins’ second book-length effort (co-author Warning the Witness, 2011) draws heavily from his own experience as a lawyer, activist and as someone who has run for public office and has served as the assistant United States attorney in Washington, D.C., under President Clinton. The story opens with a scene from the protagonist’s childhood: Quinn Barnes, a black second-grader navigating a school largely attended by privileged white students, sees one of his peers being tormented by bullies. Following the counsel of his father, he intervenes and tries to shield the boy from harm. That child’s father turns out to be Aidan Coyle, a Democratic Party boss in Connecticut, a man who wields considerable clout and devotedly serves as a mentor to Quinn for the remainder of his days. The narrative fast-forwards to an adult Quinn, now an up-and-coming lawyer married with children, who is asked by an ailing Aidan to challenge Saul Berg for his Senate seat in the next primary election. Saul is corrupt, stirred only by power itself and shorn of any transcendent moral purpose. With great reluctance, Quinn finally agrees to run and finds his life torn asunder by the race; his wife departs with the kids, his own firm fires him, and Aidan, beleaguered by medical problems, is slowly slipping away. The drama of the campaign unfolds rapidly, highlighting the tension between Quinn’s idealism and the dark demands of political competition. Sometimes, as the author tries too hard to inspire the reader, the writing borders on cloying and the dialogue reads as stale boilerplate fare; e.g., “The Saul I know is choosing billionaires over college students drowning in student loan debt. The Saul I know is continuing to support subsidies for big oil and claims that there’s no money to put people to work rebuilding roads and bridges. The Saul I know puts his friends and his own interests first. And if you’re putting yourself first, you’re not doing the business of government.” Despite these occasional missteps, however, the story remains both timely and gripping.
Doesn’t traverse new narrative ground, but this is a lively tale about balancing one’s moral commitments with the realities of political life.