We’ve all heard the adage that timing is everything. Well, Tracey Richardson certainly has a great sense of timing. The Windsor native has seized the day with her new novel The Candidate, deliciously premised on an unlikely romance between a charismatic female presidential hopeful and her achingly butch bodyguard. It’s a decidedly queer diversion from the real-life US presidential primary season that is so dominating the media.
Richardson gives us Jane Kincaid, a young, dynamic would-be Democratic nominee chasing the staid male frontrunner as the primaries swing into full gear. Enter Alex Warner, an Olympic hockey hero turned cop turned Secret Service agent assigned to protect Jane.
The Candidate, published by the lesbian fiction experts at Florida-based Bella Books, takes us inside the campaign as Jane is forced to make hard choices between her political destiny and her burgeoning love for Alex.
For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that I was a little apprehensive about reviewing this book. As a gay boy with a penchant for high-brow fiction, I’m hardly Richardson’s target audience, and lesbian pulp romance rarely figures anywhere on my reading list. But with an open mind and heart, I plunged in.
Richardson generally wields a deft pen and delivers a brisk narrative. The idea that the Democratic Party is actually ruled by lesbians — even the party matriarch is an alluring African American dyke — is an enticing one. Truth may not be stranger than fiction in this case, but there are many signs in Western countries, including the US, that the political closet is opening up. Recently, a gay man became a serious contender for the Democratic senatorial nomination in North Carolina of all places. Richardson’s novel lets us indulge in the question, “What if?”
There were some disappointments for me in The Candidate. First, I’m a bit of a political junkie, so I was hoping for some insight into the primary process. And although Richardson liberally sprinkles the novel with references to hot-button political issues, she never tackles them in any depth. Further, with the media saturated with news of the real-life race for the Democratic presidential nomination, minor errors in depicting the nuts and bolts of the primaries are glaringly obvious.
But this book isn’t really about politics, it’s about two people on a crash course with each other, and The Candidate is most effective when the focus is squarely on romance. Jane and Alex are likeable characters, and the sections of the novel that recount their rapprochement whisk by with a page-turning drive. Although the notion that this relationship could happen in the real world is far-fetched at best, in the world of the novel it seems almost inevitable, and I found myself rooting for them. I was even oddly aroused myself at the thought of Alex’s “well muscled shoulders.”
Richardson published several novels in the 1990s, and The Candidate is a comeback of sorts following a lengthy hiatus. She already has a new novel, another romance, in the works. My best advice to her would be to work on better developing and maintaining the distinct voices of her characters. I had difficulty distinguishing Alex from Jane at times. The reader is reminded repeatedly that Alex is from the South, and while she does utter some wonderfully colourful phrases like, “I think I just got taken out to the woodshed and spanked,” her voice is consistently more North Bay than North Carolina, at least to my ear. On the other hand, the Canadian sensibility of The Candidate is part of its charm. Canuck readers will enjoy the plethora of hockey references: Jane even gets to drop the puck at an NHL game.
One final note: I was quite amused by the amount of alcohol Richardson’s characters managed to consume, especially Jane. I don’t usually think of politicians, especially female politicians, as hard drinkers, but I suppose the extreme stress of running for president, not to mention all that pent up sexual energy, is enough to drive anyone to drink.
In the end, I was pleasantly surprised overall. I suspect there are more than a few dykes out there harbouring Hillary fantasies who’ll be willing to kick back with a fresh bottle of bourbon and savour The Candidate right to its very last drop.