Saturday, 29 August 2015

Review: Special Interests by Emma Barry

4.5 stars

Normally, the taglines on romance novels are one of my least favourite parts of Romancelandia - they're either overblown, twee, misleading or play into stereotypes about the genre (on some memorable occasions, they manage to be all at once). But the one for Emma Barry's Special Interests is an example of what happens when taglines go right:

In fact, Special Interests as a whole is an example of what happens when things go right. We open in Washington D.C. some time after union organiser Millie Frank was involved in a hostage situation.  In retrospect, it's farcical, given the hostage-taker was wearing a chicken costume and only had a fake gun, but that doesn't mean she's not having a hard time getting over it. Especially since she's now a household name in DC. When she bumps into Parker Beckett - literally - she's so sick of all the attention that she uncharacteristically asks him home with her. She's mortified when he declines, but the two of them just keep crossing paths; budget negotiations are in full swing and Millie's trying to get Parker's Democrat Senator boss not to throw the working class under a bus by giving into the Republicans' proposed budget compromises. As for Parker, he's finding it hard to maintain a moral compass, and harder still to ignore an idealistic union representative who still uses the term 'working people' unironically and suffers from night terrors.

If Special Interests has a theme, it's balancing idealism and cynicism. Both Millie and Parker have long since realised that working in D.C. is not all it's cracked up to be, but they've dealt with this realisation in different ways; Millie's clung to her faith in organised labour as a cure to the ills of the political system, while Parker's become jaded and fatalistic. As characters, they are almost unparalleled. At the outset, Millie comes across as whiny and slightly irrational, but that's fair enough given the whole hostage thing. It also led to some good tension with Parker, who, in Millie's words, was "conceited, presumptuous and paternal". Barry skillfully peels back layer after layer from two seemingly self-absorbed characters, revealing them to be extremely complex and allowing them to evolve as each challenges the others' worldview. 

And the plot, as I mentioned, is about US politics budget negotiations, which perennially pop up in the news but that I've never really understood before now. So, if you have an interest in American politics, but don't want to follow the primaries too closely lest Donald Trump makes you lose faith in humanity, try Special Interests!

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