I'm guessing that Jess Walter was as upset about the 2004 Presidential election as I was. We handled our disappointment differently: I drank a lot of vodka and he wrote an amazing book with an unlikely hero. Vince Camden is living in Spokane WA where he manages a donut shop. He also pals around with local hoods and works a scam with credit cards. He isn't too happy but he seems satisfied until the day he starts counting people he knows who are dead. Things get complicated when he begins to think that he's next.
This is playing out against the backdrop of the 1980 Presidential election. Vince has never even voted but once he gets his voter registration card he begins paying attention. Unfortunately nobody he knows is remotely interested or informed about the issues. Anyone old enough to have lived through that time will recall just how bitter and divided the country was. Carter's one term had been a disaster and The Great Communicator- a B movie actor and corporate spokesman turned governor- Ronald Reagan, offered a vision which succeeded mostly because of its lack of clarity. He looked like a guy who could lead and at least he wasn't Richard Nixon.
Vince takes off for New York where we learn all about his sordid past and meet some truly scary mobsters including one called Johnny Boy, who hasn't been right in the head since his son was run over by a rival gangster. The story shifts back to Spokane and Walter gets off some great lines about Wiseguys trying to adapt to life outside of Brooklyn.
Vince reminds me of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure another hapless soul who couldn't catch a break. They're both fish out of water who thought they could remake themselves despite overwhelming obstacles. Vince, like Jude, wants to be part of something bigger than himself; neither is afraid to buck the system, yet they both demonstrate some ineptitude figuring it out. Eventually, Vince has both a vision and a plan. Unfortunately for the country, Ronald Reagan never came close to that. None of us could have imagined just how polarized America would become back in 1980, but luckily, we still have vodka-and now we have Jess Walter, too.