On first impression you might be forgiven for thinking Taft 2012 is a cheap ‘tie-in’ – a work destined for the bargain basement, and cunningly crafted to make a fast buck from the buzz surrounding the American presidential election. I will certainly hold my hands up right now and admit this was the first thought that crossed my mind when I read the blurb:
He’s back. And he’s the biggest thing in politics.
He is the perfect presidential candidate. Conservatives love his hard-hitting Republican resume. Liberals love his peaceful, progressive practicality. The media can’t get enough of his larger-than-life personality. And all the American people love that he’s an honest, hard-working man who tells it like it is.
There’s just one problem. He is William Howard Taft… and he was already president a hundred years ago. So what on earth is he doing alive and well and considering a running mate in 2012?
And well you might wonder, what is William Howard Taft doing running for president in 2012, and indeed, what is Jason Heller doing writing a book such as this?
Regular followers of my reviews will recognise Jason Heller as author of The Captain Jack Sparrow Handbook, a novelty fan-book which I was rather impressed by, even though I admit, the Pirates franchise is not to my taste. With Taft 2012, Heller makes his professional debut as novelist, and I have to say, even though I had my doubts, he has done a really good job.
While Taft 2012 is most obviously a satire – a book designed to poke fun at democracy and the American presidential elections – on satire alone, I don’t think this book would stand up. What makes Taft 2012 so impressive in my mind at least, is its human story. This isn’t a book about America, or even about William Taft per se; Taft 2012, is, at its heart, a book about people – a book about the human experience.
Taft himself is a quite brilliantly drawn character. Naturally, he’s a ‘larger than life’ figure – on account of his girth more than anything else – but there’s something about him that really makes him stand out far beyond what on first glance appears to be a fat man with a big moustache.
There’s something very real, and very moving about the way his whole experience is portrayed.
Some of the most powerful examples of Taft’s humanity are to be found when Taft is in isolation – when he has a monologue with a statue of himself, or when he finally brings himself to confront the words read at his eulogy all those many years before. History, we learn, isn’t always as clear-cut as it might seem. There are some powerful messages to be found here, hidden within the human tale of Taft’s re-examination of himself, and it’s in these messages that we find a book of real power – a book of heart that very few might expect.
I worry that because Taft 2012 is very clearly a book of its time – a book about the 2012 presidential election, a book with a year in its title – that it might well fall victim to its own marketing. As I alluded to in my opening, Taft 2012 is so much more than a book about the American presidential election; so much more than a book about 2012, or even about Taft himself. It’s a book about us as people, and who we are. For this reason, I highly recommend it to anyone looking to read something a bit different this year, something with a little more soul. There is certainly a lot more to this book than meets the eye.
And another thing…
Before I end this review, I think I need to say a few things about the technical presentation of the book, and the way Quirk Books have gone about marketing it to the wider public. While in my main review I have focussed on the merits I feel Taft 2012 has as a book in itself, these two additional features, in my mind, make this book really stand out.
Firstly, readers will note I did not for one moment mention the style. You may be forgiven then, for thinking that Taft 2012 is your traditional novel. Well, you’d be wrong. The book consists of a number of different presentation styles, all very astutely woven together to create a coherent whole. There is on the one hand, the ‘novel’ itself in the traditional sense, with chapters of text taking us from one scene onto the next. Between these chapters however, there are a number of additional sections, including news polls, media transcripts, radio conversations and even social media posts! While at first I was a little perturbed by this experimental style, I have to say in Taft 2012 it works really well. As a fully signed-up member of the social media generation, there is something about this style that really strikes a chord with me, and I can’t help but think we may find this sort of thing happening more and more in modern books – especially works of this ilk. Whereas with some books you would certainly say this sort of thing would distract from the main plot, in Taft 2012 the additional material actually adds to the book – it gives a real sense of the ‘Taft phenomenon’ – of the way stories can grow in the press, and how the story of Taft’s appearance quickly became national news.
It’s testament to the author, that the style works so well, and doesn’t ‘jar’ the reader as it so very easily could have. I’d even go so far as to say the style works so well, the book wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as it is without it!
This brings me on then, to my final point about Taft 2012: marketing. Readers will be interested to know that Taft 2012 has its own website www.taft2012.com. This in itself, is not a new thing, but what I think works particularly well in this case, is how the marketing team at Quirk Books have tied the two together. Part ‘real life’ presidential page and part advert for the book, the Taft website is an interesting development in book marketing, and along with the advent of the ‘book trailer’ has become one of my favourite examples of how print publishing is adapting itself for the modern world. I was particularly impressed by the fact that the book even contains links and references to the website!
To find out more visit the Taft 2012 website and see for yourself.