Books & Authors: A capital idea from a Gore daughter
A naive Midwestern girl moves to Washington, D.C., to take a job as a Senate staffer and quickly discovers tough lessons about life on the Hill: the hypocrisy, the heartbreak, and the hilarity. Kristin Gore smiles and swears that her first novel is just that — pure fiction — but still, the reader may wonder.
Here, for instance, is her fictitious president, a minor character in the book: "As presidents went, Pile had been a disaster. His administration had made a tremendous mess of things over the last seven years. ... The international community had become accustomed to shaking its head at America's troubles and did its best to prevent the Pile administration from spreading its unique brand of arrogant ineptitude beyond American borders."
Gore's father, of course, is Al Gore, whose bid for the White House four years ago ended in vote recounts and a Supreme Court decision that made George W. Bush president. Ask his second-oldest daughter about Bush, and she demurs: "I avoid saying a lot of stuff about him. It's not a mystery where my personal values are, and who I'm backing in the election."
Kristin Gore, 27, has just published "Sammy's Hill," a funny novel about the seamy side of politics as seen through the eyes of a young woman struggling with love and career — sort of a Bridget Jones-does-D.C.
Gore comes with stellar political credentials, lending an air of authenticity to the setting. Born in 1977, a year after her father was elected to Congress, she grew up around Washington, D.C. Her paternal grandfather was a senator, as was her father, who went on to become vice president, and very nearly president. In the spring, she will marry Paul Cusack, the district director for Rep.Martin T. Meehan, a Democrat based in Lowell, Mass. That's why, a few months ago, she left the West Coast for the Back Bay.
"Growing up in Washington, I had lots of friends in politics and on the Hill," Gore says. "I grew up running around my dad's office. His staffers — I always admired the impulse they had, to try to make the world a better place." The main character in her book, Samantha Joyce, shares that trait. "It's Sammy's main thing, and it makes her a little naive at times," Gore says. "She's an idealist. She's from Ohio." The heroine is part klutz, part hypochondriac, and all heart: bleeding heart.
A health-care analyst for Sen. Robert Gary of Ohio, Sammy is a student — and critic — of the country's convoluted health care system. Reading Gore's words, you can almost hear her father's voice: "I hadn't been able to understand how the government could continue to allow nearly forty-four million Americans, many of them children, to go uninsured," Samantha Joyce muses. "I'd been horrified to discover the price gouging that went on, and the toll that it took on lower- and middle-class families."
Then there are Gore's comic credentials. Until her senior year, at Harvard, she was the only woman on the literary board of the Harvard Lampoon. "I didn't know its reputation at all," she says. "It was just that the funniest people I knew at Harvard were on the Lampoon, so I looked into it and it ended up being one of the best things I did."
When she joined the Lampoon in her junior year, Gore hadn't been planning on a career as a comedy writer. A social studies major, she was headed to graduate school, but in the spring of her senior year, she decided to move to Los Angeles to attempt television writing. There she wrote sample scripts and submitted them all over the place.
Gore landed a job on "Futurama," the animated show conceived by Matt Groening of "The Simpsons," who wrote a blurb for her book ("'Sammy's Hill' is full of sly plot twists and big laughs, and every word rings true").
The Emmy-nominated show ended two years ago, and Gore went to "Charlie Lawrence," a CBS sitcom that starred Nathan Lane as a new, idealistic congressman — and that lasted three episodes.
One of her favorite gigs was the week she wrote for "Saturday Night Live," which was also a week her father was on the show. She wrote a monologue for him that was a parody of "The Bachelor," in which he and Joe Lieberman — played by Chris Parnell — ended up in a hot tub together.
"My father thought it was funny," she says. Her father, the famously wooden Al Gore?
"He's very game," she says. "He has a great sense of humor not often on display in politics. He and my mom are both really funny. In politics, these images get grafted onto people and you can't escape them. But the way I know him . . . he has a great sense of humor."
She speaks warmly of her family: her older sister, Karenna Gore Schiff, 30, and younger siblings, Sarah, 25, and Albert III, 21. All attended Harvard — Albert is a senior — as did their father. They grew up in a house in Arlington, Va., that was built by their maternal great-grandfather. It is also where their grandparents and their mother grew up. Summers and holidays were spent in Al Gore's native Tennessee.
"The day after school got out, we would drive to Tennessee and we did not come back until the day before school started," Kristin Gore says.
Her family has been through a lot: Her brother suffered near-fatal injuries when he was hit by a car at age 6; her mother subsequently struggled with depression and later crusaded for mental-health issues. Her parents, who met in high school, have a famously close marriage: "It's a fact of my life that my parents are so in love with one another after 34 years," Gore says.
It was work for "Charlie Lawrence" and "Saturday Night Live" that got Gore thinking more about political writing. After writing for television for five years, she was ready for a change. She'd always wanted to try writing a novel, but was afraid to give up her day job.
What happened next, Gore says, was pure serendipity: She was at a New York event with her older sister when she ran into Harvey Weinstein, co-chairman of Miramax Films. "I talked to him very briefly and told him I always wanted to write a book, and that I had an idea about D.C.," she says.
Weinstein put her in touch with Miramax Books chief Jonathan Burnham; both men had discussed the need for a woman's sendup of Capitol Hill. Gore sent Burnham an outline and a few chapters, and a book was born. She completed her first draft in three months.
"I loved writing it. I'd wake up every day so excited to write," she says. "It never felt like a chore."
Columbia Pictures has bought the film rights, and Gore is writing the screenplay.
These days, she's getting reacquainted with the Boston area. "I love going out to run an errand and finding myself on the Freedom Trail," Gore says. "It's like, 'There's Staples, and there's Paul Revere's house.'"
Boston's history is especially meaningful coming from Los Angeles, she says, where "if something was built in the '70s, it was definitely the 1970s."
Unlike her protagonist, Gore isn't planning a political career. Though she says she understands why young people are turned off to politics, she stresses that it's crucial for them to be involved. Sammy, she says, gets involved, gets disillusioned, and gets knocked around. "But ultimately, she stays involved, and that is the best any of us can do."
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