This review is going to be one massive spoiler, just FYI. If you haven’t read this book and you intend to—and you want to be surprised—quit right here. K’bye. Come back and see me after you’ve read it (or maybe, in the future, after you’ve watched the miniseries). Because I mostly want to talk about the choice the author made with the ending.
The timing of this book was exquisite for those of us still broken-hearted after the 2016 elections. In July of 2018, Jo Piazza gave us Charlotte Walsh and we needed this book and this protagonist as part of our healing process. It gave us a mechanism to work back through a Clintonesque campaign to see what we may have missed the first time, and the opportunity to feel hopeful again—especially in the sense that we might at least get a fictional win that we didn’t get in reality.
Like Clinton, Walsh is not a perfect candidate. We’re given the backstage view of a candidate as a whole person. There are lots of hard truths about what it means to be female in this space and that’s as enraging as it is cathartic. Piazza did her homework with this book and the writing is fantastic and on point.
But what really stuck with me was the ending and Piazza’s choice to leave us in limbo. And this is the gut punch: We don’t know if Walsh beats the male incumbent. On the last page, we say leave Walsh and her cheating-ass husband on election night, about to find out their fates. We aren’t privy to this information. We’ll never know if Charlotte Walsh actually won.
Piazza pissed off a lot of people with that choice. Many readers trusted Piazza to give them a win or to tie the whole mess up in some neat little package where Walsh loses the election but goes on to find herself at a yoga retreat and become a mindfulness meditation coach with four million Instagram followers. In an era of uncertainty with a lunatic at the wheel, it’s understandably to desperately want Piazza to take us to a fantasy where things ultimately go right. But Piazza denies us our happy ending and deigns to leave us with the discomfort of no ending. I’m sure some readers saw this as a lazy cop-out. Piazza brought us this far, the least she could do is to bring us home with a solid ending.
But, I’m going to take a controversial stance—at least among my friends who have read this book—and defend Piazza’s choice. As an author, she’s decided she owes us nothing more than to deliver something that makes us think. She’s not going to coddle us and she wants to leave room for hope.
I also see her choice as a charge: Don’t like the ambiguity? Then get out there and start helping women get elected. Make your own happy ending. Find your own closure. Because you won’t find it here.
Ultimately, if you can allow for a little more uncertainty in an already uncertain life, this book is a must-read and an entertaining one at that.
Rating: 5 raised fists
For fans of: Liberty and justice for all.