Jake for Mayor by Lou Aguilar
When Ken Miller, campaign manager to Bob Morris, witnesses his boss’s political crash via hot mike, his personal life also takes a dive. Taking to the road alone, he ends up in Erie, Colorado, a small town awaiting a make-or-break mayoral election involving only one candidate. Becoming entangled in a series of events with a homeless beagle called Jake, Miller ends up in jail. Released conditionally until trial, he must stay in town and take responsibility for the pooch. Drawn to a local waitress and into the town’s political shenanigans, he brainstorms an idea that will challenge the mayor and pump some life back into his own political career: Run Jake as a protest candidate and rise back to the top.
I was pretty certain I was going to enjoy Lou Aguilar’s Jake for Mayor—the offbeat plot promised adventure of a different stripe and I was so curious as to what an author could do with this story. If I had any reluctance going in, it would have been a wariness of slapstick type humor, a brand that is funny enough at the start but dries up pretty quickly. But Jake’s very opening sentence—“The children were my best props ever”—spoke to greater substance and I relished even more this peek into the game of politics and the players it employs. My lone reservation was for naught: Jake for Mayor will have you busting at the seams and the only thing you won’t want to do is put it down.
Aguilar does a great job of informing readers that Ken Miller actually has intuition and ability to read situations, using body language, sensory integration and dialogue as one set of tools. Just as disaster is about to spill all over Morris’s career, Miller senses, soldier-like, the “not right” feel of his surroundings and realizes the lack of child noise has cast an eerie pall over the park.
Narrated in first person, Jake for Mayor gives readers a likable protagonist in Miller, cleverly avoiding the pitfall of conceit while also revealing his near lack of self-awareness as he casually palms basketball tickets into a reporter’s hands or pumps up dollar amounts on official paperwork. But he does understand the level of his duplicity, his own internal monologue or reactions to self corresponding to the gravity of his individual actions. He is honest with himself and readers, sometimes brutally so regarding the deficiencies of himself and others: “The pioneer spirit had built a hardy nation in record time, so that my generation could be so infantile.”
The timely nature of this novel is also difficult to resist—in addition to sly acknowledgement of contemporary social phenomena such as “safe spaces” and a mentality that imagines much is owed as opposed to worked for, Aguilar taps into the current real-life campaign season playing out in our country and before the world, with events that seem almost surreal as well as required. As in real life where both major parties have contributed to the setback of a great nation and created the situation they claim to abhor, Erie, Colorado has offered nothing for itself except to keep electing someone seemingly willing to destroy them so long as he imagines himself ahead. When a campaign manager—and an out of towner as well—offers up an option so bizarre as to be unreal, Miller hopes they will recognize it as their own creation and make the leap to save their town.
Indeed, Miller does begin to invest a real sense of caring into the town as he recognizes his affection for Jake has begun to replace seeing him as a tool, and he falls for Jenny, a waitress he meets in one of his first encounters in Erie. We see poignancy in Aguilar’s writing, reflecting Miller’s own façade, revealing deeper feelings shrouded by humor. The author hints at it early on when Miller watches as “[s]ilent lightning speared the barren land,” itself a possible portend of what may lie ahead.
One of Aguilar’s greatest skills in this debut novel is his effective management of shifts between humor and more serious content, as well as his mixing of the two. When it is relayed to a foreigner that a dog is running for mayor, the astounded Australian quips, “Crikey. No wonder your country’s going down the tubes.” While a serious concern for United States citizens in real-world society and politics, it also mirrors quintessential American humor in which the negative is embraced, mocked and defiantly turned into a target for change rather than a source for sinking into despair. Aguilar continues a long tradition of Americans making mockery directed at them their own, owning it as they see fit and turning it around on the original source, a habit that goes at least as far back as Yankee Doodle.
Released just today, Jake for Mayor is a hilarious look at the resiliency of a man who sets out to re-make himself and what he discovers along the way as he passes through the absurd as well as potentially deadly. A fantastic tale as well as a record of our time, this is a book for the keeper shelf. Moreover, if this is what Aguilar gifts us in his freshman (as they say in politics) work, I shall be on guard for what he has in store.
The blogger received an advance review copy (ARC) of Jake for Mayor in exchange for an honest review.
Lou Aguilar is a new Penmore Press author whose bio can be found here. Stay tuned to this page as well as the author’s for updates and further information. Jake for Mayor can be purchased in e-book form at Amazon immediately; paperback form is upcoming.