Tuesday, February 21, 2012

My vote goes to Taft 2012

As an Ohioan, of course I'd heard of William Howard Taft before.  Admittedly, my knowledge has been more or less in the range of knowing that on my presidential mood-indicator magnet, in which Lincoln indicates that I'm feeling "honest" and Grant means I'm feeling "Like 50 bucks," Taft indicates feeling "bloated."  I knew that the man who liked sandwiches was, himself, sandwiched between Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson and is the only person to have ever served in Congress, as president, and on the Supreme Court.  And, of course, the bathtub...what a sad (if amusuing) legacy to be remembered for getting stuck in the bathtub. 

But what if there was more mystique to Taft?  What if, rather than going on to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Taft disappeared on the day of Wilson's inauguration?  What if Taft then mysteriously reappeared in the fall of 2011?  Jason Heller's debut novel Taft 2012 presents a humorous, thoughtful answer to these hypotheticals.  When Taft appears out of the mud, he must confront the social, cultural, and political changes of the 100 years that have passed since his last memory.

What I found particularly interesting was not just the question of how the present day affects a man from the past, but how a man from the past affects us in the present day.  As the political season heats up, a non-partisan "Draft Taft" movement starts, calling for a return to the grass-roots, common-sense politics he espoused.  Heller deftly reminds the reader, though, that we are creatures of our environment and, through Taft's words, that politics was never as idyllically clean or as black and white as the lens of history makes it out to be.  If you're looking for a funny, thought-provoking quick read, check out Taft 2012. 

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