Sammy's Hill: Chick lit for the political junkie

Samantha Joyce is a character that every woman on Capitol Hill is supposed to be able to relate to. She’s the 20-something, quirky, presumably blond staffer in Kristin Gore’s first novel, Sammy’s Hill.

Gore, the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, began her book tour last week in New York. This week she held signings in Arlington and Rockville. She has 12 more cities to visit.

The novel is a must-read for Capitol Hill staffers, as they will relate to every detail, every bar and all the inner workings of a Senate office that only insiders can know.

Sammy is the idealistic staffer handling health issues for Robert Gary (referred to as RG), an Ohio senator who intermittently treats her as a daughter and as an aide he wishes would disappear on contact.

Thankfully, she seems to be onto to the game: “And the fact that he actually cared was the only thing that made putting up with his bulls- - - worthwhile,” she says early on.

Even so, like many aides on the real Capitol Hill, she seeks Gary’s attentions as a dog does his owner, lapping up scraps whenever she can get them, believing in her boss even on his worst days. Like the time he calls her into his office, only to shoo her out by asking, “You’re still here?”

The book is hard to put down, as I found out when I awoke one morning at 4:30 yearning to finish the last hundred pages. It’s chick lit combined with a tame version of Jessica Cutleresque antics.

In the first half of the book, Sammy gets herself into a quandary by dating Aaron Driver, a handsome speechwriter for a senator who is running for president. But oh, there are problems, little things she can’t shake off about Aaron. For starters, she detests his boss and thinks he’s a shameless sort of lawmaker who doesn’t really care about helping voters as much as he cares about winning their votes.

Aaron, by the same token, takes after his boss. But it is confusing for her.

Throughout much of the book, he treats Sammy decently, wining her and dining her (mostly wining her) — but there’s something she can’t quite put her finger on about him. She’s tipped off by the fact that she can’t get in touch with him when she wants; his cell-phone charger is off; he’s off to New Hampshire on a trip with his boss.

These are the excuses he gives, all the while BlackBerrying her with gushing “I miss you” messages just when it looks as though Sammy will get her head together long enough to dump him.

So as not to ruin the book, the details will be spared here. Let’s just say she finally breaks up with him, only to take up months later with Bob Espin, an older political consultant on the presidential campaign trail. Somehow the pair never get a chance to consummate their relationship, unlike with Aaron, where it seems as if that is all they do. Let’s not forget that their first date was a drinking fest at the Oval Room and that they wound up back at his apartment, where she spent the night.

All the while, there’s another alluring male character in the picture — a Washington Post reporter named Charlie Lawton, whom Sammy literally trips over and maims at a Senate hearing early on in the book.

All sorts of atrociously degrading things happen to Sammy throughout the novel — everything from RG’s dog urinating on her suede skirt, to a horrible pimple on the tip of Sammy’s nose, to Sammy’s contracting irritable-bowel syndrome on the campaign trail.

Appalling as this is, though she is dating the political consultant at the time, somehow Espin can’t accompany her to the hospital. He has more important things to do, like getting a president elected.

But all is well. The Washington Post reporter who wrote a hit piece on her early on in the novel is by her side the entire time. Who cares that he’s dating a Post reporter at the time? The two bond as she deals with her troubled bowels, a stress-related disorder commonly associated with frenetic campaign work.

If there is one criticism of the book, it’s the copious drinking that takes place throughout. While Hill aides and partying often go hand in hand, the amount of drinking Sammy partakes in, along with all of the characters in her world, seems virtually impossible for a young woman.

There’s a point at which the drinking no longer seems cool and enticing but, rather, unhealthy.

The first line of the novel is a dream in which she’s drinking: “The party really started to rock when Willie Nelson and Queen Nefertiti began pouring shots. I downed one and felt my stomach immediately replaced by a large liquid bonfire.”

When she awakens, the drinking proceeds throughout the book, as though this is a normal, functioning way to live. If she were a horse, fine. But this a young woman who, at least on the book jacket, looks thin.

On her first date with Aaron, she begins with a solo shot of tequila and proceeds with three more drinks, followed by champagne at his place. Who knows? Maybe in Sammy’s world it is normal. Or maybe in the sequel she’ll join Alcoholics Anonymous.


Book reviewed
Sammy’s Hill
By Kristin Gore
400 pages; $23.95
Miramax Books, 2004