Publication date: July 24, 2018
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction
It didn’t matter that she wasn’t the most creative thinker or the most analytical person in the room: When she was presented with a problem, Charlotte Walsh could always fix it.
Because I started the week with one strong woman (two actually) I thought I’d go all in and review another intense read about another determined woman. Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is by Jo Piazza, whose first novel, The Knockoff, I loved for its insightful and humorous take on being a woman of a certain age in the hyper-competitive world of fashion publishing. This novel does the same thing but in a much more serious field—American politics. Charlotte Walsh is a highly successful tech executive returning to her home state of Pennsylvania to run in the 2018 midterm election to become the state’s first female senator. And if you think Piazza made that up? No. It’s true. Pennsylvania is one of 24 states that has NEVER had a female senator or governor. Which completely blows my mind.
I digress. Charlotte is running against Ted Slaughter, a 75-year-old man with multiple marriages and affairs. In his time in the Senate he has brought no jobs to the state, has decimated the healthcare system, and falls asleep during extended Senate sessions. Still, the race begins with him as a 13-point favorite. Charlotte hopes that by hiring a highly successful and ruthless campaign manager she can transition from the private sector to public service, but from the minute she announces her candidacy Slaughter emulates his name by going after her personally, with ads calling her a baby killer and criticizing every aspect of her personal life and appearance. The media follows his lead and hammers her for not smiling enough and refusing to wear high heels.
The current political model is so well mimicked by Piazza that Charlotte seldom finds an outlet to discuss the issues. She has ideas and wants to make a difference, but it doesn’t matter. Instead, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win showcases a rapacious system of protecting the status quo even if it serves no one but those who have already been overserved. As she battles to be heard Charlotte is also faced with dissension in her marriage and a piece of her past she thought would stay there.
Piazza successfully conveys the tremendous burden running for office takes in the world of the 24-hour news cycle, social media, and the death of civility and dialogue. She excels at factoring in what it’s like for a woman in a large state filled with small towns, facing a virulent hatred from white men against anything they perceive as curtailing their place as masters of the universe—even if that ‘universe’ consists of sitting in a bar all day.
I never thought a political novel would be a trigger for me, but by the campaign’s last days with the novel’s end nearing I feel exhausted. Charlotte has been managed and pummeled to within an inch of her life—every word and movement prescribed and dissected. She has an off-camera moment with a female reporter she knows and while she has to watch every word
She needed to give Erika something small, some kernel of truth. “I’m so tired,” she admitted. Sympathy flashed across Erika’s pale-blue eyes. “I know, honey. Trust me, I know.”
My note after reading these lines is: “This novel is sad. The unutterable strain of being a woman and wanting to succeed. Politics suck.” Inelegant, but it’s where I’m left. Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is great and Piazza does an admirable job blending the external rigors of the campaign trail with the internal agita of Charlotte’s marital situation and all its messiness. There is humor throughout the novel, but the truth is fairly brutal and discouraging. Ugh. Read it. Laugh it off or get angry. Go vote in November.