Looking for a Funny Novel Set in Washington, D.C.? Start Here.

By Elinor Lipman

During my five years as a presidential stenographer, I would escape the inherent stress of the White House by frequenting an upscale consignment shop in Dupont Circle. Mindlessly combing through the racks of tired business wear, I found it impossible not to eavesdrop on the ladies who lunch.

“Tell us something absolutely delicious,” the women would purr to each other from adjacent dressing rooms, and the feeding frenzy would begin. They swapped hot gossip with a rabid fervor that I haven’t encountered since — that is, until Elinor Lipman’s “Rachel to the Rescue.”

An entertaining romp of a political satire, “Rachel to the Rescue” pokes fun at D.C. shenanigans, beginning with Rachel Klein herself, a young woman who responds to an online posting and lands a job in the Trump White House. Within the White House Office of Records Management (WHORM), Rachel is tasked with taping together any document Trump rips up after reading, which proves to be nearly every memo he touches: “Did I get the easy ones, the rare memo that had been merely ripped down the middle? No. I got the confetti.” (This role as tape WHORM is an actual post in Lipman’s fictionalized Trump White House.)

Frustrated and unsure of her career path, Rachel is relatable even before she uses “the judgment one can have late at night after too many Cape Codders” to confide in a colleague: “It would be nice to have a president with a learning curve.”

Unfortunately, she writes this over White House email and doesn’t send the missive to her “alleged best buddy in the office” but to the entire department with the unforgivable quick trigger of a sloppy “reply all.” When security escorts Rachel off the premises the following morning, she is hit by the consequences of her actions. She is also hit by a car. The woman behind the wheel is none other than the president’s optometrist and mistress, who was speeding to see her most powerful patient. If this sounds zippy and over the top, prepare for Chapter 2.

The plot of “Rachel to the Rescue” escalates faster than President Trump’s tweets during his first impeachment trial. We are soon introduced to a modern-day muckraker, a celebrity Hebrew coach and an icy receptionist in love with her stepbrother. Rachel’s made-for-Netflix personal life is equally entertaining — two queer roommates eager to set her up, adorably overbearing parents, a cute guy at the wine store. Lipman writes about Rachel hosting Shabbat dinner and assisting her misguided boss with the wry charm for which she is known.

As I read this novel full of quirky characters and spry dialogue, I found myself wishing Lipman — whose recent novels include “Good Riddance,” “On Turpentine Lane” and “The View From Penthouse B” — could have left the news cycle behind. Flashes of politics occur only in the background of the novel, and the smattering of dire current events against the bubblegum fun of Rachel’s personal life creates an unfortunate dissonance. When Andrew Cuomo makes a cameo, I couldn’t help emitting a sympathetic oy vey for Lipman, who paints the New York governor in the flattering light that was common before his rapid fall from grace. While a story is a bond between a writer and her audience, the feather-light political references in this novel feel less like a connection and more like a head-on collision with the all-too-recent past and ongoing present.

Despite its White House-centric plot, “Rachel to the Rescue” revolves around one young woman navigating her way through a parade of spurned adults behaving badly. It’s the universal story of growing up and learning what matters and who deserves our attention. I have no doubt that readers who are hungry for heartwarming comedy and spicy D.C. gossip will find Lipman’s new novel absolutely delicious.

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