Sunday, April 3, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Remember the Ladies by Gina L. Mulligan

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

Remember the Ladies by Gina L. Mulligan has an intriguing premise: the first professional female lobbyist takes on the challenge of pushing through the amendment to grant women the vote.

Amelia Cooke is orphaned at age four and is brought up in an orphanage. She experiences some kindness there, but mostly she’s frustrated by the different opportunities afforded to girls than boys. A very intelligent child, she wants to continue her education and learn science and math as the boys do, rather than homemaking. She wants people to listen to what she has to say.

Instead, she is packed off at age 18 (the age when all orphans must leave) to a job in a factory where she sees women subjected to all sorts of dangers and hardships. When she takes a stand, she’s fired.

Fortuitously, Amelia meets a kindly and extraordinarily successful Washington lobbyist. She decides she wants to be his protegĂ©. He eventually takes her on and teaches her the ropes. Her mentor convinces her to use her "feminine wiles," because she is strikingly good looking. Amelia learns to use flirting to her advantage. The biggest client of her career comes along in the 1ate 1880s; the suffrage movement hires her to make sure an amendment is passed to allow women to vote. To succeed, Amelia has to wheel and deal, call in favors, and flirt like mad–maybe even go a bit farther.

Amelia has a nemesis, Senator Edward Stillman. The two met back in earlier days when Stillman was an aspiring politician and Amelia was still a lobbyist-in-training. Young and naive, Amelia had a lot to learn about ambitious, handsome men. And Stillman, even in his youth, was seductive, powerful, and slimily charming. So, their relationship was a bad idea all around.

Thrown together time after time in Washington, they have since learned to deal with one another’s presence. But now Stillman wants an appointment very badly, and to get it, he has to see the women’s vote quashed.

The book is not a romance. The relationship between the two main characters is rather unconvincing and I found their interactions to be the least interesting part of the book.

It does do a good job of showing the "sausage being made" of insider politics. Amelia works the system in detailed, organized steps that prove her skill. However, it gives an unpleasant impression that all the work of women suffragists was ineffective and inefficient. In order to achieve their goal, they need a successful lobbyist–no one else can get anything done in Washington since everything is decided by favor trading, greed, and blackmail. The fact that Amelia thrives in this environment (even though she has a somewhat imaginary moral line she won’t cross) makes her an ambiguous character. Stillman is unambiguously a bad guy, though it seems the author tries from time to time to round out the character and make excuses for him.

The build up to the vote is exciting, however the conclusion comes about in a way that I found to be a bit contrived. Overall, the book is worthwhile reading, but it’s not something I would count among my favorites.

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