9 Deliciously Twisted Books Every 'House of Cards' Fan Should Read
It's been less than two weeks since Netflix released the second season of House of Cards, but you can be sure that the show's biggest, most binge-prone fans are already well into the Kübler-Ross stages of TV grief. Anyone who's finished all 13 episodes (according to Netflix, 2% of subscribers finished the season in the first weekend alone) faces a dismal prospect: a year, at least, until the sordid story picks up in season 3 and we get to see what havoc (spoiler!) President Underwood and FLOTUS Claire will wreak on Capitol Hill.
Fortunately, there's one way to temper your post-season-finale depression, and that's by binging on books that contain as much political corruption and marital malevolence as HOC. These nine works of fiction will appeal to any fan who's waiting with bated breath for season 3.
1. 'Wag the Dog' by Larry Beinhart
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As Slate's Willa Paskin pointed out, season 2 of House of Cards was unabashedly campy. (I'm thinking specifically of the scene in which Robin Wright breaks down crying, and then stomps up the staircase, her red Louboutin soles flashing with each step.) Larry Beinhart's Wag the Dog is no different. It uses an overt plot device to explore the artifice and melodrama of the political world. The novel tells the story of a GOP chairman who hires a Hollywood director to cover up a presidential sex scandal by orchestrating a fake war with Albania. It's a plan I could see Frank Underwood tipping his hat to — and then using himself.
2. 'All the King's Men' by Robert Penn Warren
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One could make the argument that House of Cards takes much inspiration from this classic novel by Robert Penn Warren. It, too, is the story of a Southern politician's unlikely (and ruthless) rise through the political ranks. Its ambitious scale and memorable characters have made it not only one of the most famous political novels of all time, but one of the most revered American novels period.
3. 'American Wife' by Curtis Sittenfelt
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Curtis' Sittenfeld's first novel, Prep, examined the ragged underbelly of life at an elite boarding school in the Northeast. Her third novel, American Wife, goes fishing for darkness in likewise chaste-seeming territory: the first ladyship of the United States.
Its protagonist, Alice Lingdren (based on Laura Bush) has a spot-clean biography — childhood in Wisconsin; marriage to Republican scion; ascension to the White House — with the exception of one incident that occurred when she was 17: a tragic car accident (her fault) that left a classmate dead. This early brush with death (or, rather, manslaughter) proves to have lasting reverberations for Alice. Is it guilt or good politics that leads her to oppose her husband's decision to declare war on Iraq? How much of politics is motivated by the tiniest of personal prejudices? These questions, familiar to any HOC fan, sit front and center in Sittenfeld's novel.
4. 'Macbeth' by William Shakespeare
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Marriage of minds and psychopathic tendencies
As the Huffington Post recently pointed out, Frank and Claire Underwood have much in common with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the sinister duo at the center of Shakespeare's famously dark tragedy. Does this line from Lady Macbeth not sound like a typical Underwood pronouncement? "Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty!"
5. 'Eighteen Acres' by Nicole Wallace
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What if Claire were president?
The protagonist of Nicole Wallace's political thriller, Charlotte Kramer, isn't quite as cold-hearted and manipulative as Claire. But, as the first female president, she encounters the same frustrations and inequities that Claire has to contend with in the patriarchal world of Capitol Hill. In Wallace's vision, it's a twist on the Clinton formula — an adultery scandal involving that first gentleman of the United States — that undoes Kramer's White House.
6. 'Advise and Consent' by Allen Drury
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A classic of political fiction, Allen Drury's Advise and Consent concerns the Senate confirmation of Secretary of State nominee who may or may not be a former Communist. The novel's intricate plot features enough maneuvering, blackmailing and backstabbing to fuel four seasons of House of Cards.
7. 'Prime Minister' by Anthony Trollope
Though Frank and Claire Underwood work hard to present a united front, season 2 includes several instances in which their relationship and their political objectives were at odds. Anthony Trollope's novel about a prime minister whose daughter inadvertently damages his political reputation takes place in Britain in the 19th century, but its commentary on the conflict between family and political careerism remains as relevant as ever.
8. 'The Talented Mr. Ripley' by Patricia Highsmith
Fans have been drawn to House of Cards as much for its character analysis of Frank Underwood as for its commentary on American politics. Is Frank a sociopath, or simply a hurting little boy buried under years of ambition and hostility? How do his secret bisexual leanings figure into his emotional frigidity? In both of these respects, he brings to mind the protagonist of Patricia Highsmith's novel The Talented Mr. Ripley. As with Frank, Tom Ripley's ruthless pursuit of glamour and esteem runs curiously parallel to his stifled sexual longings, which causes us to wonder if his desire in one department is fueled by his deprivation in the other.
9. 'House of Cards' by Michael Dobbs
If you're a true fan, you'll take time to appreciate the source material. The novel by Michael Dobbs was the inspiration for the British House of Cards series (from which the American House of Cards series was adapted), so all of the "skulduggery" (as the jacket copy put it), takes places in Westminster. Still, MP Francis Urquhart is as brilliantly malicious as Frank Underwood. You'll be underlining one-liners until your pen runs out of ink.