The President’s Lunch
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley
The Depression has taken everything from Iris McIntosh. She has lost not only her job as a teacher but also her home. She’s left with almost nothing, hitching rides with other families in similar situations as they leave their homes behind and head for places they think they might be able to find work, or family that can take them in. A chance meeting with the First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt changes everything for Iris and she finds herself offered a job working in the White House itself.
Roosevelt came to power in 1933 when the country was in crisis. In his second term, the world went to war and America had to do as much as they could to support the British troops without circumventing the neutrality agreement and it was no easy task getting things through a hostile congress. Iris comes to deeply admire FDR the longer she works in the White House and with the encouragement of much of the inner circle, she goes to college to complete a law degree. She moves up the ranks, becoming a trusted sounding board and adviser, her position granting her not only access to the admirable First Lady but also the President himself.
Whilst her professional life is on a defined path where she knows what she wants, the same cannot be said of her personal life. Iris finds herself torn between two men, an enigmatic and much older mentor and a young and passionate journalist. As America’s involvement in the Second World War becomes inevitable, she finds that her loyalty lies much more with a third man, the President himself. Balancing the men in her life will prove to be a difficult task as Iris wavers between security and excitement. But there’s always, in the background, the lure of the White House and the passion she has for her job. But Iris’s opinions and those of the man in charge will not always coincide and she will question everything she believes in and whether or not this is where she truly belongs.
I have to admit, I don’t know much about American history. I’ve never studied it through school or university, only in the vaguest of ways (their involvement at the end of WWII, etc). And until recently, it’s not been something I was ever really interested in either but I think this book has changed that somewhat. What I knew about FDR amounted to basically he was the last President to serve more than two terms, dying in office in 1945 after being elected to his fourth term. The Twenty-Second Amendment, which limited future Presidents to a maximum of two terms, was passed in congress in 1947 and ratified in 1951.
I found it easy to immerse myself in the pace and energy of the White House in this book. Both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt are fascinating characters both individually and also together as a married couple. In fact I was so taken with the portrayal of both FDR and his wife Eleanor in this book that I asked Jenny Bond in my Q&A with her if she could recommend some biographies of the two to read in the future. I wanted to know much more about them than this book delivered because although they play a major role at various points, it’s mostly about their relationships with Iris and how she perceived them during her time working in the White House.
I think for me, the strength in this story is Iris, her character and her personal growth throughout the book as well as her relationships with both of the Roosevelts and how they evolve. I was less enamoured with the ‘torn between two men’ portion of the book although I think that’s because deep down, I’m not a love triangle girl and Iris’s inability to make a decision, especially later in the book after I thought she’d already actually made one, got on my nerves. Whilst I think I would’ve been mostly happy with any definitive decision, I did have a bit of a clear preference on who I thought she should choose and perhaps that’s why I got a bit ticked off every time she wavered in that choice!
But the story around politics and the White House was what interested me the most and this was an interesting time and I learned a lot about the Great Depression and the measures that Roosevelt was implementing to help generate jobs and stimulate the economy. People like Iris were starving when he was elected. I also learned a lot about their involvement in World War II and the Neutrality Acts of the 1930s which were aimed at preventing America from entering the war. Roosevelt had to think of creative ways around Congress to support the British and French troops fighting the Germans. It actually made me see another side of their refusal to get involved, given how much the first World War had cost them financially and it was kind of interesting to read about America having an isolationist ideology and staying out of conflicts on foreign soil, given their role in my lifetime has been quite different and still continues to be different even now.
I’ve mentioned this before, but recently I’ve begun using fiction to fill in the gaps of my historical knowledge. I start with a fiction book that contains elements of a real person/situation/country/event/etc and I go from there. This book has definitely roused my interest in both Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt as well as the time and I’m going to take Jenny Bond’s recommendations and track down those biographies to learn more about the people and the time.
The President’s Lunch is not only a fabulous portrayal of life in the White House in the 1930s and 40s but also an amazing story of a woman who hits the very bottom but takes an opportunity to rise to the top.
Book #142 of 2014
The President’s Lunch is book #53 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014
You can purchase The President’s Lunch from the publisher here