By Kristin Gore (Miramax Books, 400 pp., $23.95)
Gore reads and signs at Davis-Kidd, 6 p.m. Sept. 16
Samantha Joyce, the 26-year-old protagonist of Sammy's Hill, is very Bridget Jones, by design. She's young and single, with a klutzy streak, a tendency to date the wrong men and a talent for screwing up that's almost as developed as Bridget's. Though plagued by similar insecurities and concerns, Sammy doesn't seem as shallow as her British forerunner, partly because of the nature of her job. As a health care policy analyst for a respected Ohio senator, Sammy is more likely to be upset by a compromise on major health care legislation than by an embarrassing wardrobe snafu. Clever and genuinely concerned about the fate of the country, Sammy is as much Donnatella Moss of The West Wing as she is Bridget Jones.
That Sammy's Hill is infused with politics should come as no surprise given the author's pedigree. Kristin Gore is the middle daughter of Al and Tipper Gore. She grew up in Washington and helped out on her dad's 2000 presidential campaign, but her real talent is comedy. After writing for the Harvard Lampoon, she joined the staffs of television shows like Saturday Night Live and Futurama. Returning to Boston after living in Los Angeles, Gore decided to try her hand at a novel and, after a fortuitous meeting with Harvey Weinstein of Miramax Books (and formerly of her father's campaign), wrote Sammy's Hill in three months. Miramax bought the novel; Columbia Pictures took the movie rights.
Though her book is a work of fiction, and chick lit at that, Gore nevertheless takes the opportunity to comment on the current state of the country. Advance copies of Sammy's Hill included a couple of fairly long discussions of health care policy that have been cut from the finished novel. Still, a few subtle observations about the current administration remain: "President Pile never ceased to amaze me," muses her lead character at one point. "He always sported a blank, deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression that inspired neither confidence nor all that much respect. He'd made a career out of failing upwards.... I watched him stumble over a few more sentence fragments before jutting out of his jaw and signing the bill with a flourish."
The opposition is not the only source of humor in Sammy's Hill, which is, by the way, a really funny book. Gore combines a bit of farce, a dash of slapstick and a lot of wit to create a thoroughly entertaining read. When we first meet Sammy, she's jeopardizing an on-time arrival at work by practicing for life with only one arm. Competent congressional aide that she is, Sammy is a hypochondriac, which, when you think of it, makes her perfect for her job. She is equally concerned about the health of her latest pet, a Japanese fighting fish named Shackleton ("so named for miraculously surviving an unfortunate wintertime power outage that turned his bowl into an icebound wasteland"), who seems destined to join the legions of other fish who have met their demise on Sammy's watch.
In spite of an inability to care for fish, Sammy is obviously clever and certainly a whiz with her BlackBerrythough using it to correspond with her fellow congressional staffer boyfriend is probably not the best idea. Even when ruminating over the relationship issues that are the backbone of this genreand Sammy seems to have her fair share of romance despite 70-hour workweeksshe adds an educated twist. "I felt like Jane Goodall, studying a species so similar to myself and at the same time so undeniably foreign." Sammy (through her creator Gore) is also well-versed in pop culture, particularly that of the 1970s, a fact which, like the neck rash she gets upon meeting attractive men, manifests itself at the worse times, leaving her to wonder: "What sabotaging seventies poltergeist was channeling me from the other side?"
True to form, our heroine endures trials and triumphs of both a professional and personal nature before reaching a satisfying conclusion. Sabotaging colleagues, neck rashes and other ailments, Messrs. Right and Wrong and political shenanigans make this informed novel of Washington a perfect election-year escape.
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