Some pretty nutty scandals have rocked Washington in recent years. Take the last president, who had an affair with an intern. Or the current vice president, who accidentally shot his friend in the face. Unfortunately, real, honest-to-God history has claimed those two potential novel plots. But there are plenty of other crazy scenarios to develop—and that’s where Kristin Gore comes in.
Gore has written a novel about the White House, but in her fictional executive branch, the president is a lush, his main foe is an anonymous blogger, and the protagonist, Samantha “Sammy” Joyce, is a health-policy adviser who somehow ends up knowing all of the administration’s juiciest dirt. This is the world of Sammy’s House, Gore’s sequel to her 2004 debut novel, Sammy’s Hill.
Sammy has been in the White House a year and a half when she first smells major trouble—literally. One morning at a Rose Garden bill signing, the scent of whiskey wafts into her nose. “Was someone boozing nearby?” she wonders. “And if so, could I maybe get in on it?”
Moments later, she realizes the smell is coming from the president’s glass. President Max Wye, a supposed teetotaler, is drinking a Diet Dr. Pepper whiskey cocktail at 10 AM. Sammy tries to forget her discovery. Then she learns about the president’s next vice: To combat the effects of his alcoholism, he’s abusing an experimental Indian drug that helps him focus.
Things aren’t going so well in Sammy’s personal life, either. She thinks she’s about to get engaged when her reporter boyfriend suddenly announces he’s moving. Within days, he’s off to the Washington Post’s New York bureau. So much for the romantic proposal in Paris she’d envisioned.
“There went the shot of us at the Eiffel Tower,” Sammy laments. “And there went us on the Champs-Elysées, however it was pronounced.”
And the surprises keep coming. With a secret source inside the White House, the popular blog LyingWye.com publishes a succession of stories that become PR disasters for the administration. Even the president’s Alzheimer’s-suffering father isn’t safe. Right after he dies, the blog reveals he fathered a young infant.
Most of Sammy’s House seems over the top, but that’s the most intriguing part about it. Gore invents some truly wacky characters—such as former president Pile, who now has his own reality-television show, or Speck Johnson, a Hollywood actor who does Ecstasy before a state dinner—but they somehow seem ludicrously plausible.
The one thread that feels forced isn’t about politics; it’s about Sammy’s love life. Up in New York, Charlie has a female roommate, who naturally sends Sammy into a tailspin of jealousy. For most of the novel, Gore dangles the “is he cheating?” possibility. Unfortunately, the whole idea is clichéd from the start, and the final revelation is disappointing and unimaginative.
But that’s no reason to avoid Sammy’s House. Gore is a confident writer with a wonderfully distinctive take on Washington. Her perceptive yet hilarious style should come as no surprise to anyone who knows a little about her: She’s a daughter of Al and Tipper Gore and a former comedy writer who worked at Saturday Night Live and Futurama.
The woman has been close to a few political scandals in her days, but the ones she creates are even better. Sammy’s House is the zaniest, most ridiculous White House you’ll probably ever hear about—fictional or real. At least, let’s hope.