I received a free e-version of Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win from Simon & Schuster via NetGalley. I’m grateful to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for their generosity in providing a copy for me to review and, because I thoroughly enjoyed Charlotte Walsh, was happy to post this honest review. All opinions are my own.
Charlotte Walsh likes to win—she’s the Chief Operating Officer of a Silicon Valley technology company, mother of three under six, and best-selling author. She’s set her sights on replacing her home-state’s incumbent senator—a serial philanderer who still manages to cinch tight his Bible belt every Sunday morning, his latest half-his-age wife shining in pastels and pearls beside him. Charlotte returns to Pennsylvania with her less-than-enthused husband Max, her children, and old dog in tow. Yet, as the race heats up, the attacks turn nastier, leaving Charlotte desperately hiding one last secret and wondering whether she and her family will still be standing come election day.
Shortly after I finished Charlotte Walsh Likes To Win, I came across an Instagram post that called it “The book I didn’t know I needed to read after the 2016 Election.” That quote sums up in its entirety how I felt about Charlotte Walsh (and if it was you who said that or you know who it was, please comment below so I can credit you). I remember beginning that night in November 2016 texting with a friend who planned to travel to DC with me to see the first woman president be sworn in—we had our inauguration tickets, our lodging in DC worked out. We just needed to buy our plane tickets after Hillary was declared (Thank the universe we waited to buy those tickets). And then the growing feeling of disbelief until, finally, I went to bed shortly after eleven central time feeling shell-shocked and empty. I still question how we have gotten ourselves to this point—to the point where we have a president who aligns himself with David Duke and equates protestors with literal Nazis marching in the street. I realize this shock is the shock of privilege—I knew things were bad. But I thought they were bad in pockets; I thought the arc of history was steadily trucking towards justice. Timing is everything of course—Piazza’s book wouldn’t have had nearly the resonance it did if it weren’t published now—on the even of the midterms when hopes are riding high for a blue wave. Indeed, I don’t think Piazza would have even written this book had it not been for that night in November 2016—in many ways Charlotte Walsh feels like Piazza sharing how she wrote herself out of that shock and disappointment.
Charlotte is everything I wanted her to be. She is the kind of woman who can pull off this kind of campaign—which is to say she’s already incredibly rich and powerful in her own right. She’s taking names, not excuses. As an attorney, I receive my (un)fair share of side-eye when I’m assertive or, dare I say, bossy. Charlotte is a next-level boss, and yet, because it seems like every woman who dares put a little steel in her backbone gets a side-eye (particularly here in The South), Charlotte feels relatable, even to us little-b bosses. Sexism is, unfortunately, a seemingly universal experience for those of us with two X chromosomes, and the intensity she receives doesn’t make Charlotte less relatable.
I also applaud Piazza for making Charlotte not a size two and occasionally a sweaty mess when she has to do things like wear a blazer outside in August while judging a pie-eating contest. I read that particular scene and could practically feel my sweat glands chime in with empathy—I know what it’s like to have to wear a long-sleeved suit in a Texas court in August. You have to wring out your coat just crossing the street to get back to your car.
Charlotte’s relationship to her husband Max was a major element of the book and created much of the tension in the plot. Charlotte didn’t marry a house-husband. This is a marriage of two alphas, with the campaign forcing the issue of who gets to be first. In any relationship built on equality, that decision should be made jointly and with equal decision-making power. It isn’t so much that you should “take turns” but rather that the person whose needs are greater in any given moment should take precedence. When all things are equal, “needs” includes choices that would further a career or fulfill a dream. And yet, that’s always easier said than done. Having been the subordinate in an unequal marriage, it chafes to be the person on the bottom. Max becomes the subordinate to Charlotte during the year and a half she runs and that causes the friction you’d imagine. As a reader, Max’s attitude made me feel for Charlotte. I understood that Max didn’t like how the new role felt –neither do we Max when its forced on us—but it was Charlotte’s time. He agreed to this trip, so he needs to keep his hands and feet inside the car at all times until it stops moving.
There is, of course, a scandal that Charlotte is hiding. The existence of the scandal felt predictable—there had to be some looming threat, something to create the climax in the campaign besides election night itself. Piazza gets a pass there from me for the predictability. You knew it was coming (but not what it was) but there wasn’t really another way to create the tension the book needed.
And holy smokes was the scandal bigger than I could have guessed. Charlotte’s inner fretting and sweating told me it was big. But…wow. And yet, here is where Piazza almost lost me. The scandal made Charlotte unlikeable. I get that it had to. It needed to be the kind of scandal that could threaten the election so it had to be the kind that would drive people away from her, make her seem unrelatable. I get it. But gosh darn it, I don’t have to like it.
This book fits squarely within the camp of popular-lit, a category in which I don’t often find myself (#UnapologeticBookSnob #ButOnlyInMyChoices #ReadWhatYOULike). Reading the synopses of some of Piazza’s other work, I have no reason to doubt they’re as strongly written as Charlotte Walsh, but they probably aren’t my cup of tea. Charlotte Walsh had that hook, though. Piazza told a story I wanted and needed to hear. It was engaging without being fluffy. It was easy to read while still being tightly-written and well edited. It’s a book I recommend for readers wanting a book that feels immediately relevant, with flawed but relatable characters. It’s a book I recommend for any woman who went to bed on that night in November 2016 feeling empty and sick. There is a way forward and it starts with you getting your butt to the polls in November. And maybe it continues with you running. If Charlotte Walsh can do it, so can you.
To confirm you are registered to vote and find your poling place, you can check here. With all of the voter suppression happening, please confirm now that you are still registered to vote—even if you voted in the last election. And then get your butt to the polls in November. <3
Let us vote in such overwhelming numbers that we show everyone who much we love our country, how much we love our people, how much we love peace, how much we love life itself. -Nelson Mandela
Published: July 24, 2018 by Simon & Schuster (@simonandschuster)
Author: Jo Piazza (@jopiazzaauthor)
Date read: July 19, 2018
Rating: 4 stars