Party Lines opens with a world-weary Michael Picetti sitting at a gate in O’Hare airport waiting for a flight to Iowa in December. He is heading back to work on a presidential primary campaign, after seeing one of his best-friends get married & realizing the other will be marrying sometime soon too. He feels acutely the distance and difference between the lives of his friends and his own. He finds himself scanning the crowd for a likely hook-up, some other jaded campaign veteran with no hope of a social life. It is mostly a mental exercise, to entertain himself while waiting when he isn’t scrolling through twitter to take the pulse of the voters or taking calls from other campaign staff.
When Lydia Reales sits next to him on the plane, he turns his scrutiny on her, trying to figure out what is bringing her to Iowa. They eventually start talking about the candidates with best chances of prevailing, about life on the campaign trail & he starts thinking about how he would love to keep talking to her & share his tips for surviving campaigns with her when she suddenly gives him the brush-off & firmly settles in to read instead. He is very confused, not sure what went wrong and stews about it for the rest of the flight. He thought they were clicking, that she was maybe even flirting, and he felt so secure on the assumptions he made based on her reading material, the fact she is young and Latina & that he doesn't even consider the actual reason she was less than impressed with him. When after some awkwardness Lydia accepts his card & bemusedly offers her in return, it is embarrassingly clear to Michael what Lydia realized from the start. Turns out Michael & Lydia are on opposite sides of a lot of issues and the rest of the novel is peppered the best conversations about why they believe what they believe and why they have ended up where they have ended up. Barry does a great job presenting how campaign folk are wired differently than other political operatives.
I really liked Lydia even if I strongly disagree with her politics. Lydia is just starting her political career and is driven, ambitious, competitive and combative in ways we rarely see heroines get to be. I love that she takes advantage of every opportunity and works her ass off. I just loved how much she wanted to be amazing at her job, to be seen and recognized for it and how she is trying to figure out how to best fit in & while standing-out on the campaign team. I Liked that Barry also doesn’t shy away from portraying some of the micro-aggressions Lydia experiences as WOC on the campaign trail, and how Lydia sometimes chafes and sometimes dismisses them. Michael is at completely different place in his career than Lydia. He is getting ready to transition out of campaigning. He is questioning his life choices and his passion for being on the road.
Politics aside Michael and Lydia are simply on two different trajectories, so this is not simply at enemies to lovers story with super-hot secret affair but story about bad timing. I love that Lydia really doesn’t want or have time for a relationship with Michael. It is not in her master plan and she has bigger things on her agenda. Michael on the other hand can afford to want more from their relationship that she does. He is secure in his career in a way she isn’t. That unbalance in place of life, goals and expectations creates real conflicts for them to overcome during the novel, over and above the really engrossing political drama they are engaged in.
I just loved how Michael & Lydia’s relationship develops and deepens over the course of the election cycle progressing from tense encounters, confusing stolen moments, to secret nights, texts & phone calls. The rhythm of their relationship feels right and I found their climactic conflict to be utterly believable. I think Ms. Barry took some great risks in the second-half of the novel in particular, with the way Lydia reacts and responds to that conflict. The way she responded took my breath away but it was completely consistent with her established personality, character & priorities. That trueness to her character allowed me to believe in her choices and thus believe in their HEA.
If you haven't picked up the first two books in the Easy Part series, Special Interests and Private Politics, run out and get them, all three are really great reading. Each of the romances and couples have very different trajectories to true love and I believed in all of them.
A review copy of this novel was provided by Carina Press via NetGalley.
On-Sale Date: January 12, 2015