Book Review: Taft 2012

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Review: Taft 2012 / Author: Jason Heller / Publisher: Quirk Books / Release date: Out Now

Taft 2012 brings us a satirical take on the classic ‘lost in time’ story. It’s a formula that has brought us such delights as Life on Mars and Futurama on television, but in Taft 2012, author Jason Heller attempts to use this formula to comment on the upcoming US Presidential election in November.

The tale begins with a press conference being delivered by the current President, which is unexpectedly interrupted by a somewhat confused intruder in the gardens of the White House, who is shot at and brought under control by the security services. However, the plot thickens when the intruder is revealed to be none other than William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States from 1908 to 1913; he’s alive and well in 2011! The media go into frenzy; they want to know where he came from and why he has come back. However, what they are not prepared for is the straight talking, honest, larger than life former-President; the media and the public love him. Away from the media attention, Taft re-connects with his living lineage and gets to grips with the fast-paced, cosmopolitan 21st century society, both with comical and poignant results. However, what Taft has yet to realise is that a movement is building; across television, newspapers, social networking media and indeed the public there is disillusionment with the status quo of American politics, and they are looking for a figurehead to carry this movement to the White House in the run-up to November 2012...could it be Taft’s second calling?

I really liked this read; Heller creates enjoyable story-telling through several simple but effective techniques. Each chapter is written like an episode, you are given insight into Taft’s own struggles and the comical mishaps he gets into with his designated secret service man Kowalczyk. Between each chapter you get extracts from various media sources, such as Susan Weschler, a historian with a published book on Taft’s presidency, who relishes the return of her life’s work, and Pauline Craig, a media personality who makes Jeremy Paxman look like a BBC Newsround reporter, yet is taken aback by Taft’s no-nonsense approach to interviews. This separation between Taft’s personal journey and the media opinion around him shows how the political movement set up in Taft’s honour rises without Taft even realising it. This then feeds into Heller’s satire of modern American politics and how candidates can be pushed into a fight for the White House...even if they don’t necessarily want to be President.

Another charming feature of Heller’s book is the way in which he plants little nuggets of information that become more important as the story develops. Before Taft even appears, we are given a letter from 1912 to read from a young girl known as Irene who invites the then President Taft to come and visit her in Cincinnati upon losing the election. The charm hits when Taft fulfils Irene’s request of a visit... even if she is now 106!

It is very hard to pick a fault with this book; its only flaw I feel is the one thing that makes it a comfortable story to read in the first place, it’s predictable. From the beginning to the end you can guess what is going to happen, from when Taft realises the ethnicity of the current President of the United States to when Taft is invited to a punk club by pot-head Rob. As a result, I found myself  unsurprised by anything that the book threw at me, which is often the case when you use the ‘lost in time’ format for your main protagonist.

Taft 2012 is a very enjoyable read. Heller uses the classic tale of the fish out of water to pass criticism on American politics as he sees it across the pond. Heller uses Taft to expose the scary influence of the media on American politics and how it can create frenzy at the click of a finger. However, it’s a story (and ultimately a message) that is predictable won't open your eyes to anything new, but it’s certainly worth a read if you’re a fan of this particular concept (like me!).

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