Review: Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win
Book by Jo Piazza
Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win. And how many women are “allowed” to ever admit that ambition? This is the book women needed after the 2017 election: it’s timely, insightful, and a page-turner. Set right after Trump wins the Presidential election (yes, this is still fiction though), Charlotte Walsh — a Silicon Valley COO of a hugely successful tech company — decides to run for Senate in her home state of Pennsylvania. The incumbent is a thrice-married philanderer in his 80s. He’s worked to ban Planned Parenthood as is as much a radical conservative as they come. And he’s had his Senate seat for decades, often running unopposed.
Charlotte is an intelligent, capable, strong woman. Even when the campaign begins to change her, I’m still rooting for her, because you know she’s still there. You know her intentions are still pure: she wants to change the bigoted, biased status quo and help people find jobs and secure affordable healthcare.
While we see Charlotte dominate interviews and thoughtfully answer questions about policy, we more frequently see her subjected to fashion criticism, and dismissal of her capabilities because of her gender. She’s also accused of being a bad mother and a cold wife — all because she dares to have ambition.
These scenes, of course, called up what happened to Hilary Clinton during the 2017 election. Where her looks were judged more than her ideas. Where her emails were a bigger scandal than Trump’s racial, religious, and gender slurs. Because this book is really a reflection of reality, and a reminder of the crucial, damming rule: women are not allowed to make mistakes; men are expected to. Above all else, women must be likable to succeed, no matter their brains, experience, or capabilities.
And Charlotte does make mistakes. And past ones resurface as journalists circle for the next big story. While that mistake is not a big literary surprise, it did fit well within the narrative. And something I appreciate about this book overall. It would be easy to make this story into a ruthless tale of tabloid fodder. To make it outlandish and entertaining through dramatics. Instead, it’s a well-paced, well-told narrative, with characters being introduced at the exact right time, the plot steadily building, and the events eerily accurate (and infuriating).
I loved it, and I loved how it’s unabashedly empowering, yet subtly encouraging for other women to follow suit. Because it’s not telling readers to do anything; it’s reminding us what has already been done to women in the political landscape, and that alone is enough to inspire action.
Read this. Please, just read this book. (Sensitive, overly privileged males need not apply.)
** Spoilers Ahead **
Don’t read this section if you don’t want to be spoiled.
My singular complaint about this book is the ending. I understand that Piazza didn’t want to write one, so that we could draw our own conclusions, and construct an ending we needed (her author’s note says as much). But truthfully, as a reader, that feels like a copout. It is the author’s job to write an ending. It’s hard work. And she says that very thing, explaining that she wrote several versions. But you still have to choose. You have to end your story. I’m a purist that way.
Yes, I understand the idea of letting a reader make up their own, so they maybe don’t leave disappointed, but to be with a character for hundreds of pages, you want to know what happens to her. If she wins, I want to celebrate that. If she loses, I want to empathize with that. And you know what — we women had to suffer through a gutting loss in 2017. The least Piazza could have done is given us this one win. Charlotte Walsh deserved it.