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Amanda Wakes Up

Review

Amanda Wakes Up

An outsider, celebrity presidential candidate. TV news execs in thrall to ratings. Journalists who can’t seem to ask the tough questions. That might sound like a summary of 2016’s brutal campaign season, but it actually describes AMANDA WAKES UP, the timely debut novel from CNN morning host Alisyn Camerota.

Amanda Gallo’s dream is to anchor a major national news show, but when the book opens, she’s stuck in a decidedly less glamorous gig. Working as a freelance field reporter for New York’s Newschannel 13, “land of car crashes and water main breaks,” seems like a dead end until her live coverage of a hostage situation catapults her into the limelight. (It doesn’t hurt that she’s so eager to get the story she reports from the scene in her swimsuit.) Soon, reality TV impresario Benji Diggs has tapped her to take over the morning show at his fledgling network, FAIR News.

"[T]he peek behind the scenes Camerota offers readers is both funny and sobering, whether or not you’re a news junkie.... AMANDA WAKES UP shines a light on the way the news media helps create our fractured public discourse..."

The chance to anchor an A.M. newscast with handsome star Rob Lahr is a make-or-break opportunity for the ambitious Amanda, but she quickly finds her journalistic ideals clashing with the reality of working on a show that blurs the line between news and entertainment. Benji’s motto for his network is “true and equal” --- a nice-sounding but empty slogan that really means giving guests freedom to spout any “facts” they want, regardless of their relationship to reality.

Sound familiar? For anyone burned out on the 24-hour news cycle and exasperated by shouting guests on CNN, FOX and their ilk, the idea of picking up a book that plunges you deep into the world of cable news might seem more like a chore than a pleasure. But the peek behind the scenes Camerota offers readers is both funny and sobering, whether or not you’re a news junkie.

As with any industry that takes itself a bit too seriously at times, TV news is ripe for a skewering. AMANDA WAKES UP is like a less nasty version of THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, only set in the comparatively kind world of cable television. From over-the-top makeup artists to clueless just-out-of-college producers to goofy segments on the “trend” of models wearing pajamas to clubs, Camerota finds plenty to mock in her chosen profession, however gently.

As Amanda attempts to find her footing at “Wake Up, USA!,” her life is complicated by rising political star Victor Fluke. The aptly named Fluke, an actor turned advertising pitchman turned candidate, does wonders for FAIR News’ ratings, though Amanda fears her channel is giving the wild-card politician a pass by not questioning his more out-there positions. Amazingly, Camerota wrote the bulk of her novel before last year’s Trump-Clinton showdown, and her story of an election in which a flexible notion of the truth and an addiction to divisive rhetoric propel an unlikely candidate toward victory is eerily prescient.

The pressure Amanda feels to perform on-air wreaks havoc on her personal life. Both her mother and her boyfriend, an NYU history professor, are baffled by her hands-off approach to Fluke, who they find odious, and her sympathetic attitude to his supporters, who they see as “redneck racist homophobes.” Amanda, for her part, sees the gray in every situation, even as those around her view the world in black and white and demand she take a side.

Pretty much the only person who has any inkling of what Amanda is going through is her suave co-anchor, Rob. The sparks that fly between these two are so inevitable as to feel a bit rote, as does Amanda’s big Howard Beale Network moment at the novel’s climax. Her speech about how “personal attacks are not news, and letting two sides hurl insults at each other doesn’t create balance, it creates bitterness” has heart, but fails to land with the satisfying bang Camerota likely intended.

In the end, a convenient scandal is poised to topple Fluke’s candidacy, and Amanda has made her stand for journalistic ethics and basic human decency (and landed a hot new boyfriend to boot). But she never really confronts her role in bringing Fluke to the forefront in the first place. AMANDA WAKES UP shines a light on the way the news media helps create our fractured public discourse, but when it comes to presenting an alternative path, its vision is a bit muddy.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on July 28, 2017

Amanda Wakes Up
by Alisyn Camerota

  • Publication Date: July 25, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Women's Fiction
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0399563997
  • ISBN-13: 9780399563997