A Capital Holiday
Jocelyn Wakefield is the daughter of the widowed President of the United States. She is proud and happy to do her duty as honorary First Lady, but one day she decides she needs a break. She conspires with her wacky old granny, Gog, to slip away for twenty-four hours of tourist anonymity in Washington D.C.
Dressed in a dark wig and pancake makeup and browsing about the Lincoln Memorial, she encounters Grady Tucker, a political columnist, who falls in love with her on first sight even though he doesn’t know who she is. He wants to spend the day with her, but Jocelyn only has one day to see the sights, and she doesn’t want to spend it with him. So he falls and pretends to have a sprained knee in order to keep her by his side. Pretty soon she’s at his apartment, bandaging him up, and he’s making no-so-veiled references to marriage.
Eventually, Tucker and Jocelyn do get their happily-ever-after ending, but I was far from convinced. They decide to get married after spending much less than twenty-four hours in one another’s presence – the equivalent of one date – and for most of that Tucker thought Jocelyn was a schoolteacher from Iowa. They never discuss how they are going to cope with the constant scrutiny and security, nor how Tucker’s objectivity as a journalist will be affected by his connection with the president’s daughter. In fact, I thought that they didn’t know each other at all. Some books make me believe in love at first sight, but this wasn’t one of them. The fact that I disliked Tucker intensely didn’t help.
Tucker really pained me. He is, we are told, the author of a political column which is funny but – it is emphasized many times – never mean spirited. A typical word of wisdom from Tucker’s column: “Flattery is like chewing gum – something to be enjoyed but not swallowed.” It’s as if Bill Keane, the author of the cartoon Family Circus, became a Washington political analyst. In person, Tucker is sort of like Andy Griffith, as played by Jimmy Stewart. He wears a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbows, smokes a pipe, and says things like “Good golly” and “No siree Bob” and “My granddaddy always says that when you start arguing with a fool, the other guy’s doing the same thing.” I find it difficult to believe that anyone remotely like him exists anywhere in the United States, and much less likely that he would succeed as a journalist inside the Beltway.
Another difficulty I had with the book is the fact that, at every turn, Jocelyn and Tucker’s romance is abetted by Obediah, a jolly old man with a white beard who goes “Ho ho ho.” Obediah likes to drop long lectures about the True Meaning of Christmas at every opportunity – nothing you haven’t heard at every Christmas Eve church service you’ve ever been to – and these discourses take up a large portion of the book. Then there’s the totally artificial way characters will launch into discourses about Washington sights and history, like this:
“Do you know that if you drew a line from the Capitol to the Washington Monument, then here to the Lincoln Memorial, and followed it on across the Potomac, it would take you right to the front porch of Arlington House, Robert E. Lee’s home? It’s always struck me as ironic that Lincoln’s memorial is located directly across from Lee’s home, with a river running between them. Just about as ironic as Lee’s home getting turned into our national cemetery, isn’t it?”
Have you ever heard anyone talk that way?
You will probably have noticed that this book has a scarily similar plot to First Lady by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. That similarity surprised me – it obviously reminds one of Dailey’s reputation for not writing entirely original books, something I’m sure both Zebra and Dailey would rather we forgot all about. However, in my opinion, the two books actually have very little in common. A Capital Holiday is an explicit homage to the Audrey Hepburn film Roman Holiday. For all I know, the film may have been the inspiration for Phillips’ book as well.
I didn’t like this book, and not because it bears a superficial resemblance to First Lady. When I want to know about the tourist attractions in our nation’s capital I can read a guide book, and when I want a sermon I go to church. A Capital Holiday is rather sweet, which is the nicest thing I can say about it. But its plot is saccharine, its characters are artificial and unbelievable, and the love story is just lame.