Saturday, January 07, 2012
Taft 2012, by Jason Heller
What would happen if President William Howard Taft—the 27th president of the United States—suddenly reappeared in modern day America? How would America react, and how would it affect the presidential race of 2012? Author Jason Heller tries to answer these questions in the comic novel Taft 2012.
This novel was fun while it lasted—unfortunately, it didn't last long. Clocking in at only 249 pages, it didn't explore enough of the possibilities that were possible, and in fact, the ending was so abrupt, I wondered if this was actually the final draft of the book. It's almost as if another round of revisions was needed; maybe the author was trying to meet a deadline and ran out of time. For example, Heller put several elements into the story that were never explored or even mentioned again. "Chekhov's gun" is a literary technique that basically means if you put something in a story, it should be there for a reason, and should be used later on. For instance, if a gun appears in the beginning of a story, a character should use it later on. Well, Heller has Taft sleep with a woman, a one-night stand, during his tour of America. I expected this to come up again as an issue during his campaign. It didn't. Then there was a scene where Taft was in a room with someone smoking pot. I thought, maybe he'd fail a drug test later on. Never mentioned again. Also, a possible romantic relationship with his biographer, Susan, was continually hinted at, but never developed. Why was it even in the book? Basically, I guess what I'm saying is, there wasn't enough conflict in the book: Taft somehow returned from the dead, people wanted him to run for president, stuff happened, then the abrupt ending.
What I did enjoy was the writing, the humor, the likableness of the Taft character. Heller did a good job writing in Taft's voice, and describing Taft's early befuddlement with the advances in society, and also with his willingness to learn everything that had transpired in the last 100 years, not to mention the new social media. Taft's first attempts at Tweeting were hilarious. I also really enjoyed Heller's short in-between-chapters bursts of internet chatter, TV discussions, Taft's Secret Service agent's field reports, and Taft's great-granddaughter's (Congresswoman Rachel Taft) "to-do" notes to herself. Good stuff. Since the rest of the book was told from Taft's POV, this was a good technique that showed what everyone else was thinking.
To sum up, I liked this novel, but I wanted to love it. But it just left me wanting more.