During a reader’s first 10 minutes of acquaintance with Samantha (Sammy) Joyce, she discloses much of her loveable character. Spooked by a rogue fireworks display, Sammy dives off a boat into the Potomac right in front of her boss, the Vice President of the United States of America. The title character in Kristin Gore’s new novel, Sammy’s House, is a super-competent aide, but also a magnet for Kodak-worthy embarrassing moments that include riding a pissed-off camel and attempting to buddy-up to her boss during an in-flight movie on Air Force Two.
As the daughter of former Vice President Al Gore, Kristin Gore is well-placed to portray the intrigue, suspicion and high-stress atmosphere that pervade national politics at its top echelon. She accomplishes just that in Sammy’s House, which takes readers on a hilarious and suspenseful six-month romp through the nation’s capital. BlackBerrys strike up their competing orchestras every few seconds while top staffers spy on executive meetings through peepholes and security makes its rounds, routinely checking on automatic weapons closeted throughout the West Wing. When she’s not pushing for a bill that will lower the cost of lifesaving prescription drugs, Sammy worries about the president’s drinking problem and tries to ferret out just who on his staff is feeding information to a hostile blogger whose (frequently accurate) accusations make national headlines. Meanwhile, she tries to manage feelings of jealousy and insecurity concerning her boyfriend Charles, who stubbornly neglects to fulfill her fantasy of being whisked off to Paris for a marriage proposal.
Sammy’s charming goofs, mixed with her romantic yearnings for a modern-day prince, probably explain why some reviewers compared the character to Bridget Jones when Gore’s debut novel, Sammy’s Hill, was published in 2004. In an interview with BookPage, Gore says she doesn’t really agree with the comparison. She only read Bridget Jones after reviewers made the connection, she says. "On the one hand, I’m flattered," Gore says, acknowledging that Jones is a beloved character. But she thinks her own character is more defined by her work than the weight-obsessed, ditzy Bridget.
It’s also tempting for readers to see Sammy as the alter-ego for the author herself, who has rubbed shoulders with world leaders and who is close in age to her young heroine (Gore turned 30 in June). But, as Gore sees it, she’s not really that similar to Sammy. She likes the character, especially her passionate idealism, but "Sammy is based on lots of people I came across on Capitol Hill," Gore explains. "One of the good parts of that world was the interaction with people who want to make a difference." Because Gore’s new novel has the White House world so realistically pegged, down to its smallest details, many readers will inevitably look for parallels to current world leaders and ex-presidents. And Gore’s background including a stint at the National Lampoon while a student at Harvard certainly invites such conjecture. When asked if her fictional former President Pile is inspired by George W. Bush, Gore responds that such speculations reflect in a funny way more on readers’ perceptions of Bush than on her intentions as a novelist. While she admits that her novel has a satirical element, she insists, "It’s absolutely fiction." Similarly, if Gore’s fictional president, the closet alcoholic Max Wye, looks a lot like the controversial Bill Clinton, "that means you probably see Clinton as a brilliant but addictive personality," according to Gore.
While Sammy’s House makes its debut in bookstores this month, Gore will be finishing work on the screenplay for Sammy’s Hill. Columbia Pictures has bought the film rights and David O. Russell (I Heart Huckabees, Three Kings) is set to direct. Gore says she and Russell have approached Kirsten Dunst about playing the part of Sammy. Though Dunst hasn’t signed on yet, Gore thinks she’d do well in the role because she’s "smart, quirky and funny. She can pull off comedy pretty well, but she also brings that fresh-faced enthusiasm that would be good for Sammy. And people can believe she might not have the rest of her life together."
While Gore finds it incredibly exciting to see her first novel turned into a film, it’s not her end goal. After all, she quit her job writing for television to write novels, she notes, adding, "I really love books as books." Somewhat surprisingly, Gore doesn’t foresee rounding out Sammy’s adventures in a trilogy. "I kind of like where I leave her," says Gore, though she’s not ruling out the possibility of returning to the character. "I do love her. I hadn’t planned on it being two books; that took me by surprise. Now, I really feel like I’m done with her for a little while."
Gore is at work on a new novel with a brand-new set of characters. She’s not saying much about it yet, but she did reveal that it has nothing to do with politics, and it’s set in the South. Gore, whose family fortunes spring in part from tobacco farming, reveals, "There might be a farm involved."
Gore’s work for Harvard’s National Lampoon gave her a fine-tuned sense of how to churn out comedy, she says. But we can’t rule out the possibility that she inherited some writing talent from her father, who spent several years writing for the Nashville Tennessean before getting into politics. Do Kristin Gore and her father swap manuscripts? They sure do, she says. She describes her father and her mother, Tipper Gore (who took her author photo), as really supportive and encouraging of her writing career. "He and my mom are two of my first readers," says Gore. She also gets to read works in progress by her father, who is famous not only for his political roles, but also for his books, Earth in the Balance, An Inconvenient Truth and his current bestseller, The Assault on Reason. "I don’t generally rewrite him that much," Gore says with a chuckle, "but I do enjoy reading it as he’s producing it." Given her vicarious absorption of national politics, you might think Gore would be tempted to get into political commentary, but she says fiction and comedy are more my thing. "I really enjoy inventing things," she concludes. "If you do that in nonfiction, you get in trouble."
Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.