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Hartsburg, USA: A Novel Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 21, 2007

4.8 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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. (Aug.)
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Review

"[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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; First Edition edition (August 21, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596913266
  • ASIN: B005Q61WB4
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,322,012 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
HARTSBURG, USA is a typical town in Midwest Ohio, once the political bellwether of the nation but now gripped in slow economic decay as factories and jobs move away, and where the only thing really growing is evangelical Christianity. In this context comes a hotly contested election for the local school board: on one side is Bevy Baer, a conservative born-again Christian mother of five, and on the other is the liberal journalist and failed screenwriter Wally Cormier. The two of them, diametrically opposed to each other, become intensely invested in the race far beyond the actual stakes, banners are raised on both sides, and in the process the election becomes a sort of referendum on which set of beliefs--and what kind of person--the people of Hartsburg really want for their community. The race is at turns passionate, hilarious, and not a little unsettling (it eventually turns personal and very dirty). The depth and the seriousness of the conflict is revealed in Baer's words: "Think about values you hold dear, values that are central to who you are. Values that are who are you... now imagine a teacher telling your child that those values are wrong. Imagine a teacher telling your child that you are wrong."

This is the crux of the American red-blue divide. Can fundamentally different sets of values be brought together, or even coexist? Perhaps fittingly, the author David Mizner seems to suggest two answers, on two levels. The first is the one expressed by Baer and the other characters: that liberals and conservatives are at war, and the only way to win is to destroy the other side. At the end of the novel, there is no sense that the political chasm has come any closer to being bridged, nor have any of the characters really changed or come to a new appreciation of things.
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A nice development of two characters on opposite sides of the modern culture (secular vs nonsecular) political tussles. The opposing characters and their lives were well developed. I could relate to the life struggles of both at times. Humanized the politics of culture and fundamentalism versus the rest of us not so committed believers or non believers as the case may be.
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The other comments are right - would a story of a small town school board election be worth the time to read it? the book is much more than that - it is an exploration of how people think and feel, how they are more than the stereotypes you think they are, and how events have their own energy but are shaped by real people - suspense builds up toward the end, and it is very real suspense, about who will win the election - and I worried about how I would feel if my person lost - but the ending is magnificent - the election seems less important than the two candidates and their relationship, with each other and the town - the writing is trim and energetic, yet warm and humane - the characters grow and become more interesting - and it is a subject that is important in our country at thiis time.
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Format: Hardcover
I hesitated when I first picked up this book. The premise looked interesting but I had little faith that a writer could offer a balanced, honest, and worthwhile treatment of the cultural divide that defines much of contemporary politics. I expected the book to be filled with caricatures and gratuitous stereotypes that would elicit cheap laughs from folks in the author's "choir."

David Mizner avoids this trap and, instead, makes his characters human and real. He offers real insights into the fear that drives the motivations of each side, the compromises that successful politics often seems to require, the political necessities that create "strange bedfellows," and the loneliness that many of us feel as we try to find our place in a political system that has little tolerance for nuance or truth.

Mizner shows great compassion for his characters on both sides. I finished the book, not totally certain which side he was on. Maybe that's the point. Maybe most of us are on a side that is bigger than any one party allows us to be.

If you are looking for a jingoistic chuckle at expense of your political opponent, this is not the book for you. But, if you want a compelling and entertaining read that challenges your stereotypes, and provides insights into the lives of the characters who make up the larger cultural/political landscape, read "Hartsburg--USA."

I can't wait to read his next book!
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