Unlikely allies in the nation’s capital promote legislation penned by a young peace lobbyist in this novel by Tillotson (Acts of God While on Vacation, 2011).
Karen Mackenzie is a Washington, D.C., peace lobbyist desperate to put forth an amendment to a Senate appropriations bill known as Amendment 132-B, which seeks to engage defense contractors in the work of building infrastructure rather than weaponry. Karen gets help from a group of people whom she meets haphazardly as a result of attending a production of Twelfth Night. Her new acquaintances include a best-selling travel writer; a bitter, divorced Shakespeare scholar; a jaded Hungarian diplomat; an unctuous young slam poet; and Jonathan Kidwell, an understudy whose big break comes as he takes on the role of Count Orsino in the play. As this grab bag of unlikely activists persists in its efforts to promote Karen’s amendment, its members’ lives and philosophies collide, leading to romantic infatuations, rivalries and self-revelation. Tillotson’s commentary on the performative aspects of politics, media and even personal relationships is as astute as it is timely. The characters, for instance, critique the aesthetic elements of television news programs just as they do a production of Shakespeare. Tillotson’s dark humor and satire are also delightful, as when Jonathan, starring as Alexander Hamilton in a dramatic re-creation of the Battle of Yorktown for a TV documentary, finds himself acting alongside a fragile GI with bloodlust in the role of a fellow Revolutionary soldier. Tillotson playfully draws on elements of a classic comedy of manners, such as serendipitous meetings, reversals, mistaken identity and frustrated couplings. While Tillotson is clearly paying tongue-in-cheek homage to outmoded literary and dramatic forms, such tight control and manipulation of the narrative (coupled with the sometimes-protracted philosophical and academic musings of the characters) may appear stiff and contrived to modern sensibilities—if a lot of fun, nonetheless.
A witty and energetic novel in which the personal is the political.