Review: Taft 2012

Taft 2012 is a short novel by Jason Heller that poses the question “What if William Howard Taft, an unsuccessful and largely forgotten one-term US president who failed re-election in 1912 ran for office again in 2012?”

The book deserves some praise for actually following through with the absurd but amusing premise, for making some interesting points about politics and American politics in particular, and for humanising and redeeming a humorous, slightly embarrassing footnote in history. Most people might make a joke about Taft running for elections in 2012 after his failure in 1912, but Heller wrote a whole novel about it.

The prose has a pillowy fanfiction feel (hard to avoid with what really is “historical figure fanfiction”), with a good deal more “As you know, I, William Howard Taft did such and such a thing that shows the author did his research,” spoken and thought monologues than was realistic and more fat jokes than entirely called for (though many of them did make me chuckle, mostly at the beginning of the book). And despite Heller’s sincere attempts at wringing as much as possible out of the premise, there’s not an awful lot of substance here – Taft was fat, Taft was too honest for politics, and a few other things, repeated over and over. Much like its subject matter, the book would have been better off losing a bit of weight.

Still, it’s a pleasant, breezy story based on a delightfully ridiculous premise, which provides some history on one of the more obscure American presidents, and that left me with some interesting things to think about. Worth the read for the most part, but not something I’d reread.

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