Synopses & Reviews
Hartsburg, Ohio, is a vintage rust-belt town on the wane; the factories and foundries are closed. And as the local cineplex gives way to yet another fundamentalist church, an ideological turf war has begun.
Oppressed by a dominant culture hostile to her values, born-again Christian mom Bevy Baer decides to run for a spot on the school board. Her plucky door-to-door campaign finds trouble when it runs into Wallace Cormier. A failed Hollywood screenwriter who has returned to his hometown to raise his daughter and churn out an uninspired newspaper column, Cormier fears that he's gone soft. When Bevy knocks on his door, he decides to fight for his town and his beliefs. But has he jumped in over his head? Signs are posted, debates scheduled, sausage-making contests endured...and then big-time political advisers get involved. Soon Cormier and Bevy find themselves in a passionate, nationally televised, tooth-and-nail battle that leaves voters wondering which candidate, if either, is on the side of the angels. It's red versus blue, Christian versus atheist, and the future of the country--or at least of one town and two families--seems to hang in the balance. Hartsburg, USA is at once absurd and utterly believable, a portrait of people on both sides of the American political divide, their stark differences and common humanity.
"Mizner (Political Animal) goes micro in his second novel, encapsulating sometimes awkwardly the current American political landscape in a dying Ohio steel town's school board election. Hartsburg used to be a bellwether community that voted correctly on every presidential candidate, but a conservative shift shattered the town's decades-long streak of infallibly picking the winner in 1992. Long frustrated with the 'thumpers,' local newspaper columnist and failed Hollywood screenwriter Wallace Cormier decides he has to do something after his beloved main street cinema is turned into a church. His plan? To run for the school board against Bevy Baer, a churchgoing mother of five who wants to push an agenda of creationism and zero tolerance. Both candidates get help from veteran political consultants, and things get ugly: rumors circulate about Wallace's mother's sexual activity, and a scandalous film surfaces that reveals a lot about Bevy that she's been trying to hide. While Mizner overuses generalizations and stereotypes about liberals and conservatives, the thin secondary characters are countered by an earnest depiction of the candidates' humanity and depth of conviction. The novel ends up being much more sad than funny, more straight that satirical, and it offers an apt examination of divides that aren't as cut and dried as red vs. blue." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[An] engagingly warm novel that humanizes the country's culture wars...[Hartsburg] could have been a slapstick satire, as it details a school-board campaign pitting a born-again Christian with a questionable past against a failed screenwriter who has returned to his Ohio hometown, bringing some of his Hollywood values with him. Though Mizner has fun with his characters, he is more concerned with illuminating them than with making fun of them...This is fun to read." --Kirkus, starred review
"The story is sad and funny, pathetic and compelling by turns. It shows, as voters everywhere have learned, that all politics are local. Recommended." --Library Journal
"Hartsburg, USA is smart, funny, and provocative, a closely observed, big hearted novel about small town America. David Mizner's eye for detail and compassion for his characters, make this book bigger than the red state/blue state debate or democrats and republicans. He dives into the complexities and contradictions of his characters' political and personal lives with bold prose and a fierce wit. David Mizner is a young novelist to watch and Hartsburg, USA is a novel to savor."--Lisa Glatt, author of A Girl Becomes a Comma Like That
"David Mizner's novel, built around a school board election, is about nothing less than the soul of American democracy. This is a wry and moving story that manages to be funny, enthralling, and about real issues all the while keeping us on tenterhooks about a hotly contested election at its heart. Mizner's feat--allowing red state readers to care about wholly convincing blue state characters, and bringing red state characters vividly to life for blue state readers--is an unusually accomplished piece of fiction, impossible to put down, highly relevant to us all today."--Neil Gordon, author of The Company You Keep and Sacrifice of Isaac
About the Author
A former campaign worker and speechwriter, David Mizner is the author of a previous novel, Political Animal. He lives in New York City.