This dark comedy about dark money confirms one’s worst suspicions about the political process while constantly confounding one’s presumptions about human behavior.
Once an up-and-coming operative for a prestigious K Street political consulting firm, Andre “Dre” Ross now finds himself on thin ice for having gone overboard on a gubernatorial campaign. His boss offers him what seems to be one last chance for advancement: the opportunity to supervise a ballot initiative that would enable a metals conglomerate to mine gold from a thousand-acre Appalachian rainforest in Carthage County, South Carolina, that local officials refuse to sell. Making the county’s predominantly white and mostly conservative electorate willing to part with such fertile land shouldn’t require much more than ramping up anti-government, don’t-tread-on-me emotions. But because Dre is African American and has a criminal record in his youthful past, he may be the least likely public face to put before presumptive voters. So he assembles a team co-led by a strapping 20-something Irish American assistant named Brendan and a lead spokesman named Tyler Lee, who owns a bar called the Gray Wolf and flies both the American and Confederate flags. An even bigger asset to the campaign turns out to be Tyler’s pregnant, God-fearing wife, Chalene, whose fragile, self-effacing demeanor belies her natural magnetism as a public speaker. Pulling strings on this movement takes an emotional toll on Dre, who is capable of orchestrating all manner of dirty tricks to fulfill his client’s mandate. Yet he is pummeled by so much self-loathing that he alienates everybody on his team with the possible exception of Chalene, the least cynical person in the novel. “Aren’t elections about getting people to like you?” she asks Dre at one point. “That’s a common misconception,” he replies. “Elections are about getting voters to hate others.” That this debut novel is written by an attorney whose specialties include criminal justice and election law adds doleful, acerbic authenticity to his scenario. Yet there is also alertness to the possibility of redemption and change even in the most polarizing of situations.
Politics can be cruel and heartbreaking—and even more complicated than it seems.