Thursday, August 2, 2012

Shelf Life [adult]

Taft 2012: A Novel By Jason Heller @ SPL: FIC Helle

The US presidential election is ramping up (not that US elections ever seem to ramp down), and while the Donkeys and Elephants battle it out, author Jason Heller provides an alternative candidate in his newest novel: William Howard Taft, he of the portly proportions and handlebar mustache, the former US president of 1909-1912.

According to history, Taft was a fair and principled president who felt honour-bound to complete projects often to the detriment of his own career – which turned out to be near political suicide.

Although he lost his bid for a second term in a humiliating defeat, he did go on to become chief justice of the Supreme Court, a post he claimed felt more suitable.

In his novel, however, Mr. Heller takes some liberties with Taft’s biography. What if, after the humiliating defeat of 1912, Taft had simply disappeared without a trace? Only to “awaken” and reappear, on the White House lawn, 100 years later, just as another election is starting up?

Heller does not bother digging into hotbed political issues in this satire, focusing on how a man-out-of-time comes to terms with both his past and newly-found present, a present which includes a great-granddaughter of mixed race, Franken-turkey, and tweeting.

He intersperses Taft’s inner story with media tidbits (including tweets) that indicate how the country is reacting to the election and to the reappearance of a politician who historically had so much integrity.

Heller imagines that this integrity would appeal to grass-root folks (like the Tea Party), but that the Taft of 2012 would be as naŠ„ve of 21st century political machinations as he was of those in 1908 – as in fact the “Taft Party” turns out to be as well.

The result is a quickly-read, light satire of American politics – not enough to arouse the wrath of any political party, but just enough to allow, say, America’s neighbours to have a little chortle – and perhaps wistfully wish for such a politician in their own country.

This review appeared in The Stratford Gazette on August 2nd, 2012. Written by Robyn Godfrey, Librarian.

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