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Review: 'O, Democracy!' Is Absolutely Enthralling

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 17, 2014 9:10PM

2014_06_o_democracy_02.jpg Woodrdge native, Kathleen Rooney’s, latest literary venture O, Democracy! is a notable and welcome addition to the genre of literary fiction. Well-crafted with quick witted characters as well as an absolutely enthralling plotline and narrative voice, the novel has the aura of being an instant classic.

Rooney's semi-autobiographical protagonist Colleen is a photographer striving to create art and make her work seen, yet struggles to stay afloat a wave of optimism in a world of politics, pragmatism and often self-persuaded corruption. An aide in the unnamed Senior Senator of Illinois’ office during the year that the first African-American candidate is running for president, Rooney’s story takes place in a well-remembered near past.

The clever, aspirational and often critical Colleen is juxtaposed with her terminally egotistical, chauvinistic turd of a boss, the Chief of Staff. Juggling the pinches and winks of her boss, her seeming lack of creative success and then a scandal she’s not sure how to handle, Colleen, an unsurprising chronic insomniac, winds through election year torn and dragged in unforeseen directions as the reader scrambles to keep up.

Told in the rarely employed third person present active voice with occasional looks into the past, Rooney’s novel is one of intelligence, intrigue and enduring thematic climax. There are periodic interjections made by the ghostly figures of the Founding Fathers as they gaze down upon Colleen, which at first seem to give a sort of out of place, sci-fi spin to the would-be practical novel, but as they progress, bring a befitting mildness to break up Rooney’s robust cadence.

Rooney also has a way of talking about things without actually naming them, which at times can be a little bit overwhelming. With everything from Wayne’s World references to Henri Barbusse (obscure, right?) allusions, the novel gives you the feeling of a book that one day will be riddled with footnotes pointing out the major political, pop cultural and Chicago local references. Rooney’s technique, though, is only too perfectly paired with her vacillation between high and low language, throwing out “fuck” and “apocryphal” with the same even keeled tone.

All in all, O, Democracy! is a refreshing wave of literary mastery that blends politics, philosophy and art with seamless ingenuity.

By: Jaclyn Bauer