The One You Want
Opposites attract in political romances is a dicey proposition, but Emma Barry threads the needle in The One You Want by making her opposites an idealist and a cynic on the same (Democratic) side of the aisle.
Millie Frank is an organizer for a construction union, while Parker Beckett is a senior staffer for the Democratic Senate majority leader. Millie was recently involved in a hostage situation, which has left her with nightmares, unwelcome fame, and a sense that she should reassess her life. While Millie had a personal reckoning with mortality, Parker watches his grandfather, a Washington insider of the1950s to the 1980s, decline with Alzheimers. Therefore both characters are at major turning points in their lives, trying to assess what they want to try to achieve and how they want to live.
Parker has been a workaholic who has no time for or interest in a personal life. When he first meets Millie, he tells her that he’s not a good bet for her. When he realizes he can’t resist her, he decides it’s time to change. But can Millie believe in his transformation – especially if his new budget sells out her construction union?
The author states in the afterword that the story is based on her own experiences as a twenty-something in Obama’s Washington. As someone who had her own twenty-something D.C. years, I felt that Barry has perfectly captured a huge crisis at the heart of American democracy: it pulls some of the best and most motivated young people to the capital and then crushes them in a system designed to make their idealism laughable and their energy impotent. Millie sees herself approaching a breaking point and struggles to see how she can continue to believe and fight. Parker, meanwhile, has already been ground up, and has coped by remaking himself into someone who chases the deal itself (in this case, a budget), rather than caring overmuch about what goes into it. (Asked, at one point, if there is anything he considers sacred and would not give up, he replies that it depends on what he could get in exchange).
So what we have here is the story of a political cynic becoming a true believer in love, while a political idealist struggles not to be cynical about the man who claims he’s changed, while also deciding to become more assertive. It’s a nice and complex cross-piece.
The D.C. setting is wonderful. Millie and Parker visit after-work happy hours at bars and restaurants that feel very authentic. Parker’s grandmother’s house, packed with photos of her husband with presidents and dignitaries, is a perfect example of a D.C. family showpiece. Millie has a roommate, not her own place. I liked the characterizations of nameless tourists – how they annoy locals when they forget to stand on the right on the escalators, but how their awe at the Capitol dome and other D.C. landmarks is a reminder of what democracy should feel like.
What keeps this book from DIK status? Well, 210 pages isn’t a lot to deal with all of this. The political differences between Millie and Parker are a bit short-changed. After an initial argument, Millie becomes completely passive on watching the budget issue go back and forth, and protests we see her planning via her job never actually happen. She worries about asking Parker for inside information, but that concern just fizzles away. Parker has an irritating meltdown when Millie offers him a more moderate dating pace – shouldn’t she understand that he is different with her? While I believed in Parker’s change, I felt Millie was entitled to be cautious with a man whose longest relationship is a multi-year booty call. I wasn’t completely comfortable with the role of Parker’s grandfather in this story – he seems to exist to serve Parker’s character (teaching him lessons, proving he’s a caring guy). Ultimately, I just wanted everything to be done a bit more.
If you’re one of the many D.C. readers who facepalms at the books with mythical Georgetown Metro stops, this will be a book that appeals. If you’re interested in politics, but find Republican/Democrat books a challenge to read in the current climate, The One You Want will also be a good alternative. The Political Persuasions series won’t be an urgent glom for me, but I will definitely be picking up the next book.
I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.