REVIEW: Special Interests by Emma Barry
Dear Ms Barry:
I don’t like books about politics. I try to avoid them at all costs because real life politics is filled with such rancor and unhappiness that I don’t see how I could buy into a romance centered around a story involving the passage of the budget! I hate Congress! They are the worst–both sides but I started this book and couldn’t stop reading it even though I kept reminding myself that I don’t like these kinds of books.
What I think was marvelously done (and Rosario articulates this better than I) was how the characters were not caricatures. Millie Frank is a lobbyist for unions who has been turned into a minor celebrity due to having helped defuse a major hostage situation in DC. She’s out at a bar one night when she encounters Parker Beckett. She’s survived being held at gunpoint by a crazy man so surely asking a hottie in the bar to go home with her isn’t half as bad.
When she’s turned down because “I don’t have anything good for you.” A rejection is a rejection though no matter how Parker tries to parse it later. What Parker tries to explain to himself and Millie when they encounter each other again was that at first he thought she would be like him “self-important, impractical and judgmental” but the longer he talked to her at the bar the more he realized that she was smart and funny and someone special but he was the guy whose “specialty seemed to be screwing people”.
Parker and Millie play familiar roles. Parker is the insider born to Washington insiders and has all the world weary patina of someone whose negotiated one too many bad deals on the hill. Millie is the true believer who still fights for a cause meaningful for her. While Millie and Parker are both Democrats, you could easily replace their causes for something on the other side of the fence and have the same story. That’s actually the genius of the construction of the romance rather than a flaw.
If anything, Special Interests manages to make me believe that there are good people with good hearts working on Capital Hill whose idealism and devotion to the public work is slowly eroded by compromise after compromise until it is hard to know what you’re actually fighting for anymore. These characters are humanized and in some ways humanizes the real world too. No one is truly evil in this story – not one side of the political fence than the other.
The dialogue is fairly witty from the in person exchanges to the emails. Parker’s grief over his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s and his interaction with his mother and grandmother soften his edges. There was a particularly humorous encounter with Parker’s friends. After his initial rejection, he has to work very hard to get Millie to go out with him again and he gives her his phone to call for references. He suggests she call his mother. She does. She also asks to call a woman he has been with in the past. That was both charming and hilarious.
What I particularly liked was how the conflict was resolved. Both parties got what they wanted and while one made a change at the end to be with the other, it was because that person was pursuing something more fulfilling so even though it was a sacrifice it didn’t feel like one.
In some ways the book reminded me of the themes I love in New Adult. Both Millie and Parker are finding themselves, discovering even after years of work and friends and life what it means to be happy and how to find fulfillment. Millie is the firing pin in Parker’s cynicism, making him re-examine what he is actually trying to do in Washington. Both characters brought out the best in each other and I totally bought into their happy ever after. B