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Daniel, the adolescent narrator of Porter Shreve’s third novel, When the White House Was Ours, is growing up in interesting times: 1976, to be precise, the point when ’60s idealism begins to collide with the harsh realities of global economics and federal corruption. The kid’s growing up in an interesting family, too. Dad has been let go from yet another school-administration job, so the family (including Mom and his sister, Molly), shove off from Illinois for Washington, D.C., where a buddy has cut them a break on the rent for a large house in Columbia Heights. With the help of Mom’s hippie brother and a couple of his questionable associates who proclaim themselves “on a quest to save the post-Nixon generation,” they attempt to convert the place into Our House, a charter school. The chaos that ensues is largely played for laughs—Daniel consults Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book for tips, a poster of Chairman Mao presides over the classroom, and art class involves grafitti lessons. Shreve isn’t taking easy whacks at the counterculture, though. He presents the District as a place that can abide hippiedom, and in Daniel he has the perfect embodiment of the city’s split personality. In his struggle to make sense of the city’s subcultures, he’s every carpetbagger who ever blew into town; in his willingness to keep secrets that threaten to damage the school, he’s Li’l Nixon.
SHREVE DISCUSSES AND SIGNS COPIES OF HIS WORK FRIDAY, SEPT. 26, AT 3:30 P.M. AT GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY’S JOHNSON CENTER, 4400 UNIVERSITY DR., FAIRFAX. FREE. (703) 993-3986. ALSO FRIDAY, SEPT. 26, 6 P.M. AT BUSBOYS & POETS, 2021 14TH ST. NW. FREE. (202) 387-7638. AND SATURDAY, SEPT. 27, AT 7 P.M. AT POLITICS AND PROSE, 5015 CONNECTICUT AVE. NW. FREE. (202) 364-1919.