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Senator Boxer's new book a Capitol Hill thriller

US Senator and Novelist Barbara Boxer
US Senator and Novelist Barbara Boxer
Kitty Felde/KPCC

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California’s junior senator, Barbara Boxer, has just written her second novel. As you’d expect from someone who’s served in Congress for more than 25 years, the book is a political thriller. KPCC’s Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde caught up with Boxer as she embarked on a summer book tour.

Kitty Felde: Blind Trust is the second politically-charged novel from Barbara Boxer, the diminutive liberal U.S. senator from California. The main character in Boxer’s novel is Ellen Fischer – who’s a diminutive liberal U.S. Senator from California.

Senator Barbara Boxer: She’s my idol. I wish I could be like Ellen. You know, Ellen is so brave going through all this.

Felde: “All this” includes accusations of conflict of interest, a staffer vilified for possible terrorist ties, and since this is a thriller, attempted murder. It’s the stuff of fantasy.

But then again, Boxer’s debut novel A Time to Run told the story of the minority party trying to block confirmation of a Latina judge to the U.S. Supreme Court. You saw that story play itself out this summer. But Boxer wrote it four years ago.

Boxer: Well, it just seems to me with these novels that I write it’s either life imitating art or art imitating life.

Felde: Or maybe it’s all just made up, like the character of Craig Fulton, the scheming vice president in Blind Trust. Boxer denies that Fulton is based on Dick Cheney.

Boxer: I don’t really think he’s like a particular vice president. But certainly, I think he’s a composite of many that I have known.

Felde (reading from novel): “Vice President Craig Fulton was an increasingly controversial man who in her view pushed his authority to extremes and trampled on individual liberties and jeopardized the Bill of Rights. His speeches, the executive orders he crafted, and the policies he advocated: authorized wiretapping, surveillance, and in certain circumstances, torture, although he called it enhanced interrogation.” Anybody you know?

Boxer: Well, this is a composite of many I have seen. And that’s as far as I’ll go.

Felde: The National Review labeled Boxer’s first novel “liberal pablum” that sounded like “a talking-points memo” from the Democratic National Committee. Boxer insists her new novel is more even-handed.

Boxer: My first book was criticized, I think rightly so, you know all of my heroes were the Democrats and my villains were the Republicans. I have a lot of real heroes here who are Republicans, one of whom is her husband, and I was able to explore this unfortunately dying-out breed of moderate Republicans. They just seem to be disappearing and I was able to pay tribute them in this book.

Felde: But not well enough to satisfy a Wall Street Journal reviewer who felt Boxer still put the good guys on the left and the bad guys on the right. But an Associated Press review said the book becomes a “page turner” by the end. For that, Boxer pays tribute to her collaborator on the Ellen Fischer series, Mary-Rose Hayes.

Boxer: The first book I wrote, I tried to write on my own. After five years, I said to my agent “help.” I need somebody because I just told a linear story. I wasn’t good at the flashbacks and how to really unravel the tale in a way that was compelling.

Felde: Boxer’s book tour has been more compelling than most. Protesters angry about health care reform showed up at a San Francisco book signing to boo the senator. But only those who bought the novel were allowed inside. One protester told Boxer Blind Trust was “going in the trash” as soon as he got home. But novelist Barbara Boxer sold every copy of her book that night.