on July 24, 2018
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary Fiction
FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
Jo Piazza’s Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a timely and relevant exploration of what it’s like for a woman to run for political office at the national level. I have to admit that I picked this book up in part because I still have very strong feelings about how the 2016 Presidential election turned out and was therefore very curious to see how a book about a woman running for office written after that election would portray the political climate in America.
Charlotte Walsh is the successful head of a technology firm in Silicon Valley. She decides that she wants to run for office and after talking to her husband, packs up her family and moves back home to Pennsylvania to run for Senate in her home state. The novel follows Charlotte and her family from the moment she decides to run and hires a campaign manager, through every step of the way up through election night. We crisscross Pennsylvania with Charlotte as she seeks supports from the state’s very diverse population and we sit in on strategy sessions as she and her team plan their next moves.
In that sense it’s a very political novel, but it’s also so much more than that. While the primary focus of the book is definitely Charlotte’s campaign, her family and especially her marriage are also a huge focus. The campaign trail takes a huge toll on families, not just because everything moves at such a grueling pace but also because everything in your life past and present is suddenly on display and up for grabs by the media, the opposition, etc. If you have any skeletons whatsoever in your closet, no matter how well you think you’ve buried them, there’s always the chance they will come back to haunt you. All of this makes campaigning stressful and requires a great deal of sacrifice, and anyone who runs for office has to decide how much they’re willing to sacrifice to achieve their ambition. Part of Charlotte’s journey in this book revolves around how much she is willing to sacrifice to earn that Senate seat.
I liked Charlotte from the moment she is introduced. Those who know my reviews know I love a good underdog, and who is more of an underdog than a woman with no experience in government running for office in hopes of unseating a Senator who has had held his Senate seat for decades? While Charlotte has to fight tooth and nail for every percentage point she gains in the polls, her opponent can tell lie after lie, behave like a condescending jerk, and even go so far as to call Charlotte a c*nt on stage at a debate and not lose a single percent in the polls. Charlotte was an easy character to root for in many ways not just because of what she was up against, but also because for me, she represents all of the women who have decided to run for office after what happened in 2016. Through Charlotte, Piazza gives her readers a pretty accurate snapshot of what probably every female candidate running for office is going through.
In fact, my favorite part of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win was how truly authentic Charlotte’s campaign for senate felt. Piazza does a brilliant job of conveying both the sacrifice that a grueling campaign can take, both physically and emotionally, on not only the candidate but also on his or her entire family, as well as the double standard and hypocrisy that is ever present when a woman runs for office versus when a man runs for office. From the moment Charlotte announces her candidacy, she has to start answering questions, basically justifying why she is running, why her life isn’t good enough as is without running for office, and even obnoxious trivial things like why she chooses to wear the shoes she does, the nail polish she does, etc. She is hit with this endless barrage of ridiculous questions that no one would ever ask a male candidate.
There were times when I wanted to say that the questions were over the top, but just following Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Presidency in 2016 was enough to tell me Piazza is spot on with how she portrays Charlotte’s campaign. While every candidate who runs for office has their life scrutinized for anything that can be used against them, a female candidate’s life is truly placed under a microscope and it’s truly appalling to see what their opponents will use as weapons against them. In Charlotte’s case, for example, her opponent actually has the gall to imply that she would be an ineffective senator because she is the mother of young children. He actually states that she would neglect her duties as a senator every time one of her children has so much as a runny nose, as if being a mother is a detriment or handicap. That hypocrisy and the double standard kept me fired up and turning the pages. The more I read, the more infuriated I got, and the more I wanted to see Charlotte kick her opponent’s butt.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the third person point of view used in this story. I felt like it kept me from fully connecting with Charlotte. It’s probably something that wouldn’t bother many others, but I think this would have been at least a 4-star read for me easily if the story had been written from Charlotte’s point of view in first person.
I also would have preferred a more definitive ending. I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m not going to say much more here other than there were a few loose ends I wanted tied up that were left wide open.
Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a powerful read that explores themes of politics, inequality, marriage, and infidelity. Charlotte and her family’s journey is one that should be relevant and engaging for all readers, especially women, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.
From Jo Piazza, the bestselling author of The Knock Off, How to Be Married, and Fitness Junkie, comes an exciting, insightful novel about what happens when a woman wants it all—political power, a happy marriage, and happiness—but isn’t sure just how much she’s willing to sacrifice to get it.
Charlotte Walsh is running for Senate in the most important race in the country during a midterm election that will decide the balance of power in Congress. Still reeling from a presidential election that shocked and divided the country and inspired by the chance to make a difference, she’s left behind her high-powered job in Silicon Valley and returned, with her husband Max and their three young daughters, to her downtrodden Pennsylvania hometown to run in the Rust Belt state.
Once the campaign gets underway, Charlotte is blindsided by just how dirty her opponent is willing to fight, how harshly she is judged by the press and her peers, and how exhausting it becomes to navigate a marriage with an increasingly ambivalent and often resentful husband. When the opposition uncovers a secret that could threaten not just her campaign but everything Charlotte holds dear, she has to decide just how badly she wants to win and at what cost.
A searing, suspenseful story of political ambition, marriage, class, sexual politics, and infidelity, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is an insightful portrait of what it takes for a woman to run for national office in America today. In a dramatic political moment like no other with more women running for office than ever before, Jo Piazza’s novel is timely, engrossing, and perfect for readers on both sides of the aisle.