A ragtag band of extremely wealthy, well-connected reformers upends the two-party system in this debut savvy political novel.
Alex “Atlas” Stein hosts a confab of friends at his Aspen, Colorado, chalet to unveil his plan to start a third party. Specifically, he wants to take on what he sees as the divisiveness, sleaze, and gridlock of American politics. After a lengthy tutorial on the formidable barriers to third parties in a presidential system, he signs up his guests: U.S. Army Gen. Samuel Huntington “Hunt” Smith, who will command the party machinery; policy wonk Julie Kersten-Covington, Atlas’ old flame; internet whiz Lauren Chevez de la Rosa; campaign strategist Mark Stone; and baseball hall-of-famer Tom Robinson, who will serve as the party’s goodwill ambassador. Dubbing itself the “E Party”—with the “E” standing for education, economy, and ethics—the enterprise starts slowly by fielding several candidates for the Illinois state legislature. Thanks to an adroit stealth campaign; a good slate of candidates, dominated by respected teachers; and Atlas’ millions, they win enough seats to deny the Democratic Party a legislative majority and force concessions. They pass breakthrough initiatives via shrewd maneuvering and crowd-pleasing publicity stunts; for example, they break a budget impasse by offering prizes to voters who provide expense-cutting ideas. They’re poised to make huge gains in the next election until a femme fatale, a Machiavellian Democratic operative, the even-more-Machiavellian Democratic speaker of the Illinois House, and the Democratic National Committee chairman target the E Party with tawdry rumors and ginned-up criminal charges. Some readers may find Nemerovski’s view of political passions to be quaintly out of date after the election of Donald Trump, as the E Partiers are sure that it’s issues of good governance, fiscal responsibility, and education that will spark a populist uprising against the political establishment. Fortunately, his portrait of nuts-and-bolts politics is realistic and engrossing. His characters play a ceaseless, multilevel chess game, strategizing on candidate recruitment, messaging, media schmoozing, parliamentary procedures, and the subtle niceties of legislation that can have explosive, unexpected results. Although there are some longueurs of anodyne banter, the narrative largely unfolds at a snappy pace via emails and press reports that follow the characters’ moves and countermoves. The result is a sharp, colorful critique of state politics that takes its importance seriously.
A sometimes-starry-eyed but well-observed and entertaining saga of democracy in action.