There is one thing you can be sure of in Nicolle Wallace’s debut novel: Every background detail and procedural item is accurate to the very last degree. Wallace didn’t have to interview anyone but herself about internal operations within the 18 acres of the title—that is, the White House. As a former White House Communications Director (under George W. Bush), as well as a campaign advisor for John McCain and Sarah Palin, she has pretty much been there and known that.

Wisely, though, she doesn’t push the protocol. This story instead covers the private lives of three women: the first female president, Charlotte Kramer; her White House chief of staff, Melanie Kingston; and Dale Smith, White House correspondent. Ambushed like all presidents by the sometimes murky details of other people’s lives and intentions, Charlotte struggles to bring her first term to a fitting close with the hope of running again. She gets no help at all from her husband, Peter, whose affair with Dale becomes public just in time to complicate the whole situation. A debatable emergency decision by Defense Secretary Roger Taylor thrusts all three women into the limelight at an unfortunate time, when Charlotte is making important choices for the next four years. This would include her selection of Palin-esque Democrat Tara Meyers as her new vice president, to head a startling, two-party Unity ticket.

The plot gets a little convoluted at the end, and some readers may feel that in places it supports the accusation that a woman in the White House might be more destructively emotional than a man. On the other hand, Eighteen Acres dares to probe the personal relationships that affect every campaign, even if some men pretend to ignore them. The emphasis on private issues makes the reader feel like a mouse in the House (albeit a female mouse) witnessing a variety of political human dynamics that don’t get much attention publicly, except at their most scandalous.

At any rate, Eighteen Acres raises questions we might not have thought about before. Nicolle Wallace neatly melds the political and personal facets of public life to produce an absorbing suggestion of future possibilities in the American presidency in this absorbing novel.

 

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