Ana Marie Cox's contributions to the Wonkette blog (www.wonkette.com) have long been the finest synthesis of political gossip and sodomy jokes on the web. Describing its sensibility without the word "snarky" is like recounting Ben Affleck's career without the word Gigli. However, it's with no spirit of snarky schadenfreude that I must report that Cox's novel debut, Dog Days, is, in blogging terms, unworthy of a trackback.

Melanie Thornton is a bright-eyed "junior varsity" campaign staffer plucked from her native Iowa to work on Sen. John Hill-man's presidential bid in Washington, D.C. In the throes of campaign madness, she's forever researching television footage of her candidate acting "spontaneous" and spinning reporters … with the noted exception of married journalist Rick Stossel. He's spinning her in hotel rooms throughout the District.

To deflect a smear against her candidate from the Swift Boat-like "Citizens for Clear Heads" – who claim Hillman took part in a mind control experiment in college that has pre-programmed him to redistribute wealth – Melanie and her consultant friend Julie create the Washingtonienne-like Capitolette, a blogger who posts of her sexual escapades with Beltway bigwigs. Her goal is to create a diversion from the smear campaign during the slow summer news cycle. But what the blogosphere giveth, it doth take away.

Dog Days isn't sure if it's a poorly disguised satirical novel about politics or an excuse for observations about the social mores of D.C. political types. At times, Cox seems poised to plunge into over-the-top satire, yet she invariably retreats to bland political scenery. It's a pity that Cox gave up her day job at Wonkette to promote this book, as it's clear that she's much more comfortable firing off one-liners about ass-fucking (and pandas) than she is with the multiple demands of effective novel-writing.

The problem isn't so much that Cox has nothing to say (something that's never been a problem for her), but that she's unable to craft a character that's viable enough to make us care. We're led to believe Melanie came to Washington as an earnest idealist – she wears a Carol Mosley Braun T-shirt with less irony than you might think – and thus her fall into the political sewer might mean something. Yet no matter how many times she mentions that the election is about "the future of the free world," there's never any sense she really believes it.

Dog Days
By Ana Marie Cox

(Riverhead Books, 274 pages)


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