The President’s Lunch

Written by Jenny Bond
Review by Marina Maxwell

In 1933, Iris McIntosh loses her teaching job in Chicago and is forced on the road with thousands of others who are desperate for work, food and shelter. At the same time, the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, has her own private challenges to negotiate, and she is also trying to persuade her husband to make his New Deal initiatives more inclusive of women. Iris has a lucky encounter with Eleanor in a gas station, and her life changes dramatically as she is given opportunities that few women in her era would have. Interspersed in the narrative are the 1962 memoirs by Henrietta, a former housekeeper at the White House, and she recalls how she fed its incumbents and their VIP visitors on a limited Great Depression menu.

The nature of this novel makes it difficult to decide which readership it is aimed at. Those who like their historical fiction more lightweight (steamy sex scenes) will no doubt enjoy Iris’s relationships with Monty, the dashing advisor to FDR, and his rival, the restrained journalist, Sam.

Other readers who favor a more serious literary approach and historical novels that feature real people will appreciate the passages that deal with the complexities of American politics and Eleanor’s feminism, as well as glimpses into the enigmatic Roosevelt partnership, but they may find Iris’s dithering romantic entanglements superfluous or just plain annoying. And then there is the third strand from the wry, practical viewpoint of the housekeeper that doesn’t really seem to gel with anything else. This may have worked better if it was made concurrent with the rest of the narrative.

The President’s Lunch is often engaging and historically enlightening but is ultimately let down by its indecisive genre.