Originally created 02/05/06

'Dog Days' is tail-wagging good



"Dog Days." By Ana Marie Cox. Riverhead Books. 274 Pages. $23.95.

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Ana Marie Cox has known success as the writer behind "Wonkette," the political blog that covers the ins and outs of Washington, D.C.

But can someone with the ability to write short, snappy quips and links to interesting Web sites maintain that energy throughout a novel?

In Cox's case, the answer is a resounding "yes."

"Dog Days" follows the travails of Melanie Thorton, a staffer for the presidential campaign of John Hillman. She's overworked, underpaid, and having an affair with a married journalist. But by D.C. standards, this all seems pretty standard.

During the slow, dog days of summer, Melanie manages to keep her head above water despite having to deal with a bizarre ad campaign aimed at Hillman. Then word of her affair gets out.

In an effort to keep the heat off herself, Melanie and her crafty friend Julie create a blog called "Capitollette," in which a mistress to the politicos spills some dirt from within the Beltway and the bedroom.

"Dog Days" is fun, a quick read that's rife with pop culture references and great wordplay. Although the book takes place in Washington, Cox keeps political jargon to a minimum. More important, she infuses commentary about blogs and their influence on politics. For the reader unfamiliar with the world of blogs, Cox smoothly slips "Cliff Notes" explanations into the narrative.

"The fringiness of political bloggers made the Internet a kind of extreme focus group for new ads and tactics. Their reactions wouldn't tell you how the country as a whole would react, but it was a way to take the temperature of the base."

A few important characters in "Dog Days" seem a little stock, including Julie, and Melanie's chain-smoking female boss. However, Melanie's character is well-developed and complex.

She does have a conscience about her affair, which Cox skillfully puts into perspective within the hazy world of presidential politics. From Melanie's point of view, when a young woman is constantly on the road or surrounded by the same grumpy staffers, anyone - even a married man - who shows the slightest interest is a welcome change.

"While she was growing up in Iowa, the only people Melanie knew of who had affairs were characters on 'Dynasty.' She had to admit there were times now when she felt like her new illicit hobby was just part of growing up, a part of coming to Washington, not that different from developing a taste for gin or foreign cigarettes."

Melanie is young but not naive, and her story is intriguing and funny. More important, Cox manages to take something as up-to-the-minute as blogs and weave them into a story that otherwise seems timeless.

That's key, since Melanie and her gang show that politics is just a game in which only the players change.