Title: Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win
Author: Jo Piazza
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Publication Date: July 24, 2018
(Digital ARC graciously provided by the publisher via NetGalley)
Award-winning author and journalist Jo Piazza tackles timely and relevant issues with wit and humor in her new novel Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win.
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.
I don’t normally read politically-focused novels, not because I don’t care but hearing about it on the news is enough for me. But the summary of this book just intrigued me and it was a ‘read now’ on NetGalley so I decided to give it a try.
And, goodness, did it deliver the goods.
Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win tackles the costs of being a woman in the limelight, specifically one running for office. At the heart of this novel is Charlotte Walsh, a big shot Silicon Valley exec who decides to return to her home state of Pennsylvania to be its first-ever female senatorial candidate. She starts on her campaign not fully realizing just how much of herself would be exposed to a public who is all too glad to pick apart her every word and action. Assisted by her savvy campaign manager Josh Pratt, her fiercely loyal executive assistant Leila Kelly, and her team, Charlotte weathers on, but as election day nears a secret she’s been keeping threatens to ruin her bid for office and her marriage.
From the plot to its pace to the writing and down to its characters, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a solid book.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I loved the writing. Jo Piazza’s humorous and witty spin on otherwise serious matters such as class, gender, healthcare and skills re-training made this page-turner all the more engaging and relatable. I think people will find themselves agreeing with the points she opened up in this story.
That said, what I loved the most about this book are its characters. They are flawed, nuanced but still likable. Every character in this book is fleshed out and I’m sure readers will feel like they know the whole cast well after they finished reading.
Of course, Charlotte was the one who resonated to me the most. She is ambitious, idealistic, resourceful, smart, and confident and insecure at the time. The stuff she had to put up to – double standards that you’d think no longer exist in this day and age – disgusted and angered me in equal measures. There was these couple of lines in the first chapter that, I think, perfectly capture this. These lines are from Josh during his and Charlie’s interview just before the start of the campaign.
“As a woman, you bear the burden of having to appear to be charismatic, smart, well-groomed, nice, but not too nice. If you’re married, you need to look happily married. If you have kids, you should be the mother of the year.”
The expectations foisted upon her were unrealistically high, something that, sadly, a lot of women the world over still deal with. Both the press and the people she wants to serve dissect her every move so much that even her choice of shoes became an issue.
But that’s just one part of Charlotte’s story.
As important as the political side of her story is, the part that interested me the most was Charlotte’s and Max’s relationship. There was just something raw and real in their exchanges, a sort of power struggle in their dynamic. I was invested in them, wanted them to survive both the campaign and election, and Charlie’s big secret. I think this is why several days after finishing I’m still not sure how and what to think about the way this book ended.
That aside, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win is a timely, funny and honest read. Sneak this in on your beach read list. You’d definitely won’t regret it.