Presidential – Lola Keeley

Where do I start with this book? A couple of days ago, my friend Tere told me I should watch The American President, with Michael Douglas as the President of the United States, Andrew Shepherd, a widower and single father, and Annette Bening as Sydney Ellen Wade, the woman he falls for, an environmental lobbyist. Directed by Rob Reiner, released in 1995, it’s a cute and idealistic romcom, with a distinct Hepburn/Tracy vibe. The script was written by Aaron Sorkin.

Lola Keeley is a Sorkin fan. She pays tribute to his writing in the acknowledgements page of her latest novel, Presidential. On Facebook, she wrote that it was her “homage to Sorkin dramas, but much gayer and all about the women”. On Twitter, she said it was “like Sorkin but feminist and queer”. All true. A little too true, actually. In Presidential, Connie Calvin, the (female and openly bisexual) President of the United States, a widow and single mother, falls for a (much younger) environmental lobbyist, Emily Lawrence. Their affair pretty much follows the plot of the movie, until it doesn’t in the last chapters, but I can’t say more without spoiling.

One of the most interesting things, for me, was to realise how little progress has been made in a quarter of a century about the issues at the heart of both the movie and the book, namely climate change and gun control. Making Emily a survivor of a shooting was a good idea, even if it made her reactions difficult to understand later in the story.

There’s a definite fanfic feel, which is not a bad thing per se, we all know how much lesfic owes to fanfic. Apparently, this book began as Supercat fanfic and as I wrote above, Aaron Sorkin’s influence is unquestionable. Besides The American President, The West Wing is there too. And maybe some Madam Secretary? Elliot reminds me of Sara Ramirez’s Kat Sandoval.

I am not as convinced by this novel as other reviewers and a big part of that is how closely this novel follows the movie that inspired it. I guess how much these similarities between movie and book will bother readers will vary, depending on how receptive one is to Lola Keeley’s writing.

They’re not the only reason I can’t give Presidential more than 3*. It’s well-written, there are very sweet moments (one of my favourites is when Emily asks Connie on a date for the first time) and I like the cover very much. But the chemistry between Connie and Emily fell short, the first kiss was very disappointing, some scenes felt like they were cut short… I wouldn’t say no, however, to a sequel with Secret Service Agent Jill or a prequel about Emily’s sister Sutton and her boss, Rebecca.

3 stars

Presidential @ Ylva Publishing

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