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Book Review: The Governor’s Lady

By (November 3, 2013) No Comment

The Governor’s Ladythe-governors-lady-Inman
By Robert Inman
John F. Blair, 2013

“I was in Zambia last year,” a doctor tells Cooper Lanier in Robert Inman’s fantastic new novel The Governor’s Lady, “Medical mission, small villages out in the bush. Sleeping in thatched huts, lions wandering through and roaring in the middle of the night. After a while, I got used to the lions and just slept through the parade.”

Cooper is the daughter of a storied political clan in the Southern state where she’s now governor, and she’s the wife of Pickett Lanier, who’s left state government in order to run for president – in other words, she’s surrounded by lions of her own, and she can’t afford to sleep through the parade. Her father was a powerful two-term governor, and her husband, a rising star in national politics, seems intent on running his old state through his wife. “If he really means you to be the governor,” a veteran reporter tells her, “he’s taking the risk you’ll do something that embarrasses him. If he tries to be a puppet master, that proves you’re a phony and he’s pulled a fast one.”

It’s a tricky position for the daughter of the late and beloved Governor Spainhour to find herself in, and it’s greatly complicated by half a dozen other factors as The Governor’s Lady hits the ground running: Cooper increasingly distrusts Pickett, the husband she thinks she no longer really knows; her fierce political dragon mother Mickey is slowly dying in the hospital; the local newspaper is digging into her husband’s background (and seems willing to invent what it can’t discover); and to top things off, a freak snowstorm is paralyzing her state.

Inman handles all this with masterful pacing and balances his headlong plot with perfectly-deployed flashbacks to periods in Cooper’s life, expertly timed so that the reader comes to know Cooper in all her strengths just as those strengths are most tested. We see a younger Cooper hosting a political event for her husband years before, when a strident woman in the audience hectors her, “Put your money where your mouth is. You come here talking about how more women need to get involved in politics and government. Well, walk the walk, honey” – and we feel the seed being planted.

The Governor’s Lady is as sharply-done an American political novel as has appeared in many a reading season, as redolent of corn-fried Southern corruption as Primary Colors but shot through with far more light and hope (mainly concentrated in Cooper, although in the character of caustic, razor-tongued old Mickey Spainhour Inman perhaps wrote better than he knew: she riotously upstages everybody in every scene she has – in a perfect-world movie of this book, she’d be played by former Texas governor Ann Richards).

“I’ve been hanging around this place for forty-five years,” Cooper is told by an old-time State House watcher, “and I’ve seen every sorry-ass excuse for so-called public servants you can imagine. I’m hoping you’ll be different. You have a chance to be. God knows this place needs it.” In a multi-layered (and at times very satisfyingly sentimental) climax, readers will learn just what kind of public servant Cooper decides to be, and at what cost. The Governor’s Lady deserves a wide readership.