Book Review: Capitol Hell

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Capitol Hell by Jayne  Jones and Alicia Long

Genre: political, chick lit, humor, contemporary fiction

Jayne Jones and and Alicia Long are former Senate staffers-turned authors.  After working nearly ten years in politics, the pair decided [they] had way too many hilarious stories to keep to [themselves], so [they] penned Capitol Hell, a fictionalized tale of what life is really like behind the scenes in Washington D.C. Capitol Hell tells the story of Allison Amundson, a small town girl from South Dakota who lands the highly sought after job of scheduler to the newly-elected and rising star of the US Senate, Senator Anders McDermott III (MN).  While she thinks she is on the fast track to success, she quickly learns that life on Capitol Hill is even more dysfunctional than portrayed on TV. In fact, it is ‘Capitol Hell.’ Capitol Hell is repeatedly being called “‘The Devil Wears Prada”‘meets Washington D.C.” and chick-lit lovers are eating it up.

No one ever said life on the hill was easy…

The story is told through Allison Amundson, a college graduate that snagged a “job of a lifetime.” Twice. However, on her very first day as a scheduler for her Minnesota senator she realizes it’s not the pretty picture she imagined it to be. Indeed, he is demanding and critical, insincere and phony, and believes Allison to be on duty 24/7. She is trying desperately to keep things on an even keel in an office where she is saddled with the workload of several, and the target of a staff clique.  She has no real ally or support until a friend from the senator’s campaign, Janet, comes to the Hill.

And then Mr. Snot Nosed Brat, Grade A member of the Allison Haters Club and whose father was a maxed out donor to the senator, throws Allison and Janet for a loop – and puts the whole office in turmoil…and lands the girls on air mattresses in the senator’s house back in Minnesota to work from the state office. Not only that, but the first-year senator is about to make a remarkable national announcement.

This book was definitely an interesting read. It gives insight into the workings of the US Congressional offices, with the senators and staffers that fill them. I think this is a lighthearted but very telling commentary about what happens behind closed doors in our government offices. The staff members put up with a lot of flack from superiors and co-workers. Indeed, the Allison Haters Club could disappear from work for hours on end to go to the movies while one the clock, make incredibly snarky and inappropriate comments and get away with it all without reprimand.

The inner-workings of this office and the staff who “run” it made me cringe. I worked in a university office where things were rapidly falling apart, and I booked it out of Dodge before it landed on my – a student’s – shoulders. My counterpart who stayed…well, she got screwed over royally. I saw the writing on the walls, as Allison can clearly see from her coworkers, and yet she keeps her mouth shut and signs on for another round in the same office but with much more at stake. None of the characters in this book display growth or improvement, except maybe some more insightful glimpses of the chief-of-staff, Charles, who is a married man that adores his children, and later in the book comes to Allison’s defense.

The senator and his wife are an incredulous couple: he’s a lying, cheating, penny-pinching senator, she’s a brainless ex-model-wanna-be-actress who spouts the most insane things for a wife of a government big-wig. The commentary made between the two of them, both on and off the record, include immigration policy, feminists, and working moms. Needless to say, the wifey alienates the entire female population of the United States by some of her comments – and the senator is OK with it. To me, that just doesn’t make sense and is slightly unbelievable that there’s no one doing PR damage.

Some have mentioned in reviews that this book strays away from most issues facing our country and government, and for the most part they are correct. That’s a disappointment and I think not a true reflection of the encompassing novel this could have been, but I also see it from the other side. As a reader, I don’t want politics shoved down my throat. The only real thing that crops up in this book is about immigration. The senator could care less about any MN constituent stuck in a prison somewhere overseas – but he wants a public image of having diverse staff and volunteers, and being the working man for people who’s loved ones are held up by other governments. Sweetheart Janet comes to the rescue, and it is clear that her character is emotionally invested in helping the people her boss ignores. That was a touching moment for me, because I would be just like her.

Overall this book is intended for a light read and I enjoyed it for the most part, but I just couldn’t get past how Allison (or Janet) would have stayed. I grew up with the same values they were raised with: work hard, believe in God, and you’ll be rewarded. When it comes to reaction to criticism, I’m much like Allison: I get angry. So how she could have stayed escapes me. But I suppose it was worth the rewards, which readers don’t find out about.

This book ends in such a way that there could be a second book…

About the Authors

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Alicia and Jayne

Jayne Jones and Alicia Long, co-authors of Capitol Hell began their political careers by working for former Senator Norm Coleman (MN).

Jayne Jones, a graduate of William Mitchell College of Law, left Capitol Hill to work for the Minnesota House of Representatives, where she was the Executive Assistant to the Speaker of the House. Her favorite adventure is teaching others about the legislative process and how to draft legislation in her capacity as a political science professor at Concordia University. Jones is also in the process of starting a summer camp for teenagers interested in public policy.

Alicia Long, a South Dakota native and graduate of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, also worked for United States Senator John Thune (SD) as well as former United States Senator George Allen (VA). After graduating from law school, she obtained employment as a Presidential Management Fellow in the Department of Justice. In that capacity, she worked as a Special Assistant U.S. Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in the District of Columbia. Currently she is an attorney working in Washington D.C.

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