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Power, Politics — And Party Planning

Nicole Sexton is the former director of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
Nicole Sexton is the former director of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

In an era when bookstores brim with memoirs, tell-alls and doorstopper biographies by politicos past and present, we still tend to think of the tart political novel as province of the Democrats. The Grand Old Party's tastes run strictly to Clancy-esque thrillers and mothballed war stories.

But we're in a bipartisan moment. If Nicole Sexton's Party Favors is any indication, the act of reaching across the aisle is spreading to the Barnes & Noble literature section.

Delightful works of political fiction, such as NPR host Scott Simon's Windy City and, of course, Joe Klein's seminal Primary Colors, traverse the minefield between a politician's public and private lives. Sexton, the former director of finance for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, illuminates a similar landscape. But, as befits a champion checkbook-wrangler and schmoozer, she and her co-author, playwright Susan Johnston, set a breezy how's-the-wife-and-kids tone that stops just short of handing the reader a cold drink.

Temple Sachet is a Southern belle on the deb track who gets pulled into politics after she organizes a run of local, record-breaking fundraisers. A devastating combo of brains, blondness and sheer will, she rockets, in just a few years, through county and state elections to rise to the position of second-most-powerful Republican fundraiser in the nation. "It took two gays and a bigot to put me there," Temple acidly remarks, "but apparently in the Republican Party, two parts homo-nepotism with just a splash of racist scandal equals a powerful new job."

Temple also blithely deconstructs other hypocrisies of her chosen trade, such as the strategic placement of donors into tiers ("Team Victory, Force GOP, the Patriots, and the Upper House. Each level had its own particular brand of fanaticism.") and the character-revealing cash-raking styles practiced by her colleagues ("Shark," "Professional," "Crash & Burner").

Had Sexton been a Democrat rather than a Republican at heart, Party Favors would have simply been an act of literary pandering. Still, her point isn't for right-wingers to fly the conservative coop. "I'm a good capitalist, I am," Temple tells us. "I spend. I earn. I love meeting people who came from nothing and now own half a city." Temple's quarrel isn't with the party's platform, but with its practices — how her colleagues skim 90 percent off the take, sexually harass interns and publicly scorn her gay mentors and colleagues, upon whom they all depend.

It's not about being Republican or Democrat. It's about not being greedy, ignorant or a hypocrite. "Why," Temple asks, "was I raising $95 million for senators without fully understanding their platforms?" In an election year, that's surely something we can all get behind.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lizzie Skurnick
Lizzie Skurnick's reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and "many other appallingly underpaying publications," she says. Her books blog, Old Hag, is a Forbes Best of the Web pick and has been anthologized in Vintage's Ultimate Blogs: Masterworks from the Wild Web. She writes a column on vintage young-adult fiction for Jezebel.com, a job she has been preparing for her entire life. She is on the board of the National Book Critics Circle.