Chronicle (November), $24.95
Yes, there are sex scenes in Sen. Barbara Boxer's first novel, the story of a liberal Democratic senator from the Bay Area who must confront her romantic and political past while deciding whether to oppose a Republican Supreme Court nominee. But any legislator can write sex scenes involving humans. What lifts Boxer's debut is an episode in Chapter 14 (though it's tempting to stop reading long before then) in which the good senator -- for reasons that flout the very notions of plot or character development -- describes two horses doing it. In language as poetic and moving as a Capitol Hill memo, she writes, "... these two fierce animals were coerced into their majestic coupling by at least six people." It's at this point you'll thank God you didn't stop reading after Chapter 3, wherein the protagonist (then a fiery student radical at Berkeley) uses the phrase "dissing the president" in a scene set in 1974. OK, OK, so we shouldn't be surprised that Boxer's book is bad. What's remarkable is that the novel's turgid, suspense-free, cookie-cutter prose ends up revealing nothing about Boxer herself, even though her affinity with the main character is continually and clumsily reinforced (hint: They're both in it to save the children). Hardly an insider account of political intrigue, A Time to Run is as generic as its title, which might serve as the best advice to potential readers.