The message of the prolific Piercy’s latest (Sleeping With Cats: A Memoir, 2002, etc.) seems to be that conservative politicians make bad parents as well as bad leaders.
After a stint as governor of Pennsylvania, Dick Dickenson has begun his first term as a senator and has eyes on the White House. If Dick has the requisite charm and charisma, his wife Rosemary, a cross between Nancy Reagan and Lady Macbeth (or Hillary Clinton), has the brains. Neither has much interest in third child Melissa. When younger, she tried to win her parents’ attention by excelling, but by the time she begins her freshman year at Wesleyan, she merely wants to get below her mother’s critical radar. In a nonfiction-writing class where she composes a revealing essay about feeling neglected by her parents, she meets Blake Ackerman, adopted son of anti–death penalty lawyers from Philadelphia. Melissa’s brief volunteer stint as an inner-city tutor while in prep school has raised her racial sensitivity, so she doesn’t care that Blake is Jewish and part African-American, both no-no’s in the Dickensons’ WASPy world. As Melissa and Blake’s affair intensifies, Melissa is far too interested in her sexual awakening to pay attention to hints that Blake’s interest in her father is an obsession. Blake talks in abstract, idealistic terms, but his real agenda is revenge: for political reasons, his father was wrongly prosecuted—and executed—for a police killing while Dick was governor. Melissa, besotted with Blake and resentful of her parents, unwittingly helps get the goods on Dick’s political/financial wheeling-dealing for an investigative reporter. When her parents forbid her to see Blake and threaten to pull her out of Wesleyan, she marries him. Then the real nightmare begins. Blake remains an arresting enigma: Does he really love Melissa or is he using her? The rest of the supporting characters are cardboard cutouts.
In all: simplistic politics, convoluted plot, and a heroine too whiny and self-centered to pity.