IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Politics turn personal in latest Susan Isaacs novel

Susan Isaacs’ latest novel, 'Any Place I Hang My Hat,' combines humor, insight in young woman's search for self. Read an excerpt.

New York-based political reporter Amy Lincoln is writing a story about a presidential candidate when a young man contacts her, claiming to be his son. While Amy helps him reunite with his father, she begins her own quest for the mother who once abandoned her. So begins "Any Place I Hang My Hat," the latest work of fiction from best-selling novelist Susan Isaacs. In her book, Isaacs looks at the issue of abandonment and how we try to find a place for ourselves in the world. She was invited to appear on “Today” to discuss the book. Here’s an excerpt:

I stepped off the elevator right into the entrance gallery of the co-op. Wow. It was oval. White marble floor, black lacquered walls, ringed with eight or ten white columns topped with marble busts, like a hall of fame for some minor sport. The hostess of the fund-raiser eyed my photo ID, which hung from a metal bead chain. "Well," she said, "In Depth magazine. I absolutely adore it."

"Tha -- " I replied.

I didn't get out nk you because she cut me off: "Is the photographer meeting you here?"

"Sorry, we don't use them. No photos, no illustrations." She'd had her eyes done, so they couldn't open wider than they already were. Still, I sensed she was surprised. "Only text," I explained. "We're the serious, boring weekly."

"Right. Of course no photos. I don't know what I was thinking. But don't call In Depth boring. I think people are feeling desperate for depth these days. Well, enjoy. Feel free to help yourself to hors d'oeuvres." Her dress, I noticed, was the 2003 New York noncolor, white. Ivory silk bands were sewn horizontally, making her look as if she'd stopped her own mummification to join the party.

Although the words In Depth on my press credentials were clear enough to her, I could see she couldn't quite make out my name. I helped her. "Amy Lincoln." A microsecond of hostess uncertainty: Lincoln? Her upper lip twitched. Should her first smile have been warmer? Her heretofore unlined forehead furrowed as she pondered asking: Any relation to the — ?

If she could have seen the rest of the fruit on our family tree, she wouldn't have pondered. Any relation to the -- ? Please! So where did the name come from? Though highly unlikely, it's conceivable that Grandma Lillian Lincoln's explanation of the family surname was a misconception, not her usual flagrant lie: something to the effect that in the penultimate year of the nineteenth century, some Protestant clerk on Ellis Island with an antic sense of humor wrote down "Samuel Lincoln" when my great-grandfather — full of beard, dark of eye, and large of nose — stepped before him.

More likely, Great-grandpa Schmuel Weinreb heard the names Washington and Lincoln while hanging out around the pickle barrel in downtown Nizhni Novgorod listening to stories about the Golden Land. Flipping a kopek, he got tails. Could he truly have believed that by being a Lincoln, he could keep anyone in New York from noticing his six extant teeth and ten words of English? Probably. My family tended to prefer fantasy to actual thought.

Take Grandma Lil. She took the subway uptown a day or two or three a week to fill in as a substitute waxer, ripping the hair off the lips, legs, and random chins of the famous and the merely rich at Beauté, an uptown, upscale salon.

From the jet-set and celebrity clientele, Grandma learned about the finer things of life, information she felt obliged to pass on to me, mainly because no one else would listen. Inadvertently, she also taught me what not to do. Early on, I sensed that pointing out that one shouldn't wear white shoes before Memorial Day was not the way to endear oneself to one's neighbors in one's low-income housing project.

Anyhow, a hundred and five years after Great-grandpa Schmuel, there I was, Amy Lincoln, at a political fund-raiser hosted by some men's footwear magnate in his ten-room co-op on Central Park West. His wife, now high on the abracadabra combo of In Depth and Lincoln, murmured to me: "If you want something more than hors d'oeuvres, I can have our chef, Jean-Pierre, whip up a light supper." This time she aspirated the hors hard enough for me to get a whiff of the garlic in Jean-Pierre's boudin blanc terrine. I said no thanks.

Listen, I was there to do my job, to observe the most recently declared Democratic candidate for the presidential nomination, Senator Thomas Bowles of Oregon. Originally the scion of an old and still-moneyed New York family, Bowles had gone west and made a larger, eco-friendly fortune for himself by finding some new way to recycle tires.

Normally, reporters were not allowed into private homes for events like these, probably on the theory that they'd pick up a disparaging remark and use it as their lead. Or they'd glom a thousand bucks' worth of Beluga, leaving seventy-five potential contributors with two hundred pygmy buckwheat blinis and a surfeit of lemon wedges. The senator's campaign manager, normally a human piranha, had made an exception for me because In Depth was so dignified it never published bitchy observations regarding a candidate's dyed hair or ferocious temper. And naturally, any insinuations about unconventional sexual predilections, even really sick and/or fantastically interesting ones, were left to lesser periodicals.

Anyhow, I'd been traveling with Senator Bowles's campaign for a few days now. I'd watched him avoid probably thirty thousand empty calories by sipping bottled water, and was awed by his willpower and robust bladder. Politically, he was a little to the left of where I stood; the word evil — à la Reagan's evil empire and W's axis of evil— wasn't in his vocabulary, and corporation was consistently a pejorative. Still, going on this campaign swing had been a plus for me. I was impressed by the thoughtful way Thom Bowles spoke about his big issues. With eagerness, too, as though complex ideas were not to be recoiled from but enjoyed. I admired his I-dare-you-to-call-me-liberal American flag pin as well as his clarity: Two days earlier, in Story City, Iowa, his explanation of the social and psychological underpinnings of global terrorism had turned an audience of small business owners from thinking "pinko weenie tree-hugger" to "Hey, he really knows his stuff."

Bowles was in his second term in the Senate, and from the start of his political career, he'd been a frequent talking head on news shows. His depth of knowledge, aw-shucks persona, and seeming lack of self-righteousness combined with a bit of humor made his the perfect response to all those ranting right-wing babes with Alice-in-Wonderland hair and Jewish neo-cons so low-key they appeared anesthetized. Also, he could make ordinary voters comprehend the gravity of issues — the greenhouse effect, the crises in Social Security funding and in the penal system — that usually left them snoring.

Alas, his campaign had gotten off to a bumpy start. During his announcement of his candidacy, the senator proclaimed: "Our penile system is in atrocious shape!" A single, nervous fluff in a career remarkably free of bloopers and gaffes. After cruel and hilarious coverage on The Daily Show, the other late-night talk-show hosts kept it alive for two weeks. This had been Thomas Bowles's first penile-free week, but his usual fluency and light touch had diminished; he actually seemed rattled. Day after day, sprinkles of sweat covered his forehead. He couldn't seem to stop inserting uhs as if they were commas, so on guard was he against a "pubic policy" suddenly bursting forth.

I glanced toward the living room. I figured the senator must be in the center of the herd of Manhattanites standing between the marble-covered Italian console that was serving as a bar and a Louis-probably-XV chair so commodious that at least three Bourbons could have sat side by side by side on its gold-damask-covered seat. However, Thom Bowles was not easy to spot. While he photographed as Strapping Western Outdoor Man, with rectilinear jaw and skin the color of a sun-dried tomato, he was not much more than five foot seven and built along the lines of a gazelle.

Before I get to what happened to Thom Bowles at that fund-raiser (and after), I should return to me for a minute, because this narrative is only peripherally about the senator. His fund-raiser is simply a good place to start my own story of loss, love, passion, abandonment, social mobility, and Discovery of Missing Person — not necessarily in that order. I don't want to sound overly dramatic, but my existence has had a fair amount of Drang, if not bona fide Sturm.

Okay, so there I was, Amy Elizabeth Lincoln, journalist. With an A.B. (Harvard, '94) and an M.S. (Columbia School of Journalism, '96). The sort of woman who ought to be self-confident enough not to have to flash her academic credentials. I stood on the border of entrance gallery and living room in the headache-inducing heat and Saharan aridity of that apartment on Central Park West, wearing a too-woolly gray herringbone pantsuit under which — in thrall to some idiot early-morning sexual fog — I'd put on my one and only thong. So I'd had a daylong itch I could not scratch. Admittedly, I had a fair amount of self-discipline, both below the belt and above the neck. People usually make associate editor at In Depth in their mid-thirties. I'd done it at twenty-eight. I could be very focused.

Excerpted from "Any Place I Hang My Hat." Copyright 2004 by Susan Isaacs. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. To learn more about the book, you can visit: