Eric Recommends: ‘Hartsburg, USA’

“Hartsburg, USA,” by David Mizner. One of the skills I most envy in good writers is the ability to get inside the heads of their characters and show the readers what they believe and why. Mizner does that exceptionally well in this comic, lightly satiric novel about a small-town school board election that comes to represent the Red vs. Blue divide in America.

The candidates are a born-again Christian busybody housewife and a failed-screenwriter liberal journalist. They’re polar opposites, yet Mizner makes them both seem real and empathetic — no small feat, considering the emotionally charged issues that come up in their heated campaign, and their very different opinions on them.

Mizner doesn’t stack the deck against either side. Both candidates have their strengths and flaws, and while I assume Mizner himself is probably more like the liberal character, he represents the conservative character’s thought process as well as if it were his own.

The writing is often funny and always affectionate toward its characters (though the characters themselves are not always nice to each other). It’s also very insightful with regard to the political process and the way it divides people who, differences aside, all have a lot in common, too.