My mom was not a big reader. She enjoyed books and reading on occasion, but I think maybe it was just too passive an activity for her. She was not good at just sitting; while watching TV, riding in a car, or even at the movie theater, she almost always kept her hands busy knitting. So when she mentioned her all time favorite book was The Last Hurrah by Edwin O’Connor, I took notice. And when I cleaned out the old homestead years ago, her first edition copy came down to Houston with me. And FINALLY, I read it.
Why did I wait so long? I totally understand why she loved it so much. Mom always enjoyed politics. She loved working on campaigns, getting out the vote, following all the conventions. She loved the theatrics, the traditions, the noble causes, and the shared bonds between odd political bedfellows. And as soured as I have become on the whole twisted American political process, reading The Last Hurrah helps me see how she got so caught up in it.
Written in 1956, this novel is about big city mayor Frank Skeffington and his last campaign. Skeffington heads a powerful political machine, typical of the way many major American cities were governed in the mid 1900s. O’Connor tells the story of the campaign thru Skeffington, Adam Caulfield – Skeffington’s nephew and a political outsider, and thru several of Skeffington’s longtime political rivals.
If it was written today, The Last Hurrah would be classified as historical fiction, but in 1956 the novel was considered quite timely. Skeffington invites Adam to be an observer of his campaign, offered as a unique opportunity to learn more about the city and traditions both political and cultural that Skeffington knows are fading away. This might be Skeffington’s last hurrah, but the campaign tactics felt surprisingly familiar. I found the story and characters believable and entertaining. Anyone interested in the way big city politics and machines operated in the last century would especially appreciate this, but the novel has aged very well and could be enjoyed by anyone. In many ways, even after 55 years it’s just politics as usual.
The Last Hurrah is now out of print so you’ll have to hunt for it at the library or in at a used book store. Or maybe, if you’re really lucky, there’s one hidden on your parents’ bookshelf.