Picks and Pans Review: Dog Days

updated 01/23/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/23/2006 AT 01:00 AM EST

By Ana Marie Cox
REVIEWED BY LEE AITKEN
FICTION

To borrow a favorite phrase from Wonkette!—Ana Marie Cox's guilty-pleasure blog—there is “kind of a low bar” for Washington novels: Concoct some characters who will be gleefully recognizable to D.C. insiders, add sex, cynicism and hip local references, and you have a must-read for the Beltway crowd. Dog Days is certainly that, but it's fun for outsiders as well. Melanie Thorton is a press aide to presidential candidate John Hillman, a worthy-but-wooden John Kerry type who is being “swift-boated” by allegations that he underwent mind-control experiments at Harvard. To distract reporters from that story—and a blind item about her own affair with a well-known journalist—Thorton invents “Capitolette,” a local party girl who blogs about sex with famous-for-D.C. types. The plot lurches between the implausible and the mundane and loses steam toward the end of the book. Cox's lively writing (“Clothes hung out of Melanie's suitcase like they'd been shot trying to escape”) also flags, evidence of a rush to the finish line. But along the way there are plenty of sly takes on political culture in the BlackBerry age. Describing the exceptionally low standard for romantic attraction among campaign workers, rendered pasty and overweight by heavy drinking and Cinnabons, she writes, “It's like the Special Olympics of sex … everyone's a winner.” Cox is not an accomplished novelist, but she is an irresistible observer of the Washington scene.

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