A couple weeks ago, I encouraged you to find a thought-provoking read, something perhaps out of your comfort zone. I decided to read True Believers, a novel by Kurt Anderson, which as it turns out, wasn’t too far out of my comfort zone once I got started.
Karen Hollander reflects on her teenage choices as she writes a memoir of her life up through college. It covers several family tragedies, national turmoil, young love and loss; and yet even as Karen writes, she discovers new information from government files on her own life and those around her. Kurt Anderson peels back small pieces of Karen’s story with suspense, bringing it closer to the truth as she drafts the memoir for her publisher.
Looking back on this novel, I decided it wasn’t anything ground-breaking. Perhaps because for me, it questioned a lot of things that I already question. Is the young generation of today as politically active as the generation of the 60s, and should they be? With all the noise in the media and pop culture, is it even possible? Are we destined to be just like our parents, or do we strive to be the opposite? When we’re looking for a partner in life, is our first, young choice destined to be terribly tragic a la Romeo and Juliet, so that ever-after we lean toward something safer and more stable?
At the end, I was still grappling with these questions. The entire novel was a swirl of uncertainty, with its book within a book structure, and with real characters constantly mimicking fiction to a degree that made Karen (and me) question their sanity and certainly their sincerity. Kids who play James Bond grow up to actually try to take down evil government. Karen and her friends read the 007 novels before any of the movies existed. They were, if you will, the “true believers” in Bond, as they later became the “true believers” in righteous politics. Everything is a mirror of something else.
Thought-provoking? Yes. Complex? Incredibly so. But it seems like just the sort of book that a journalist can write. Kurt Anderson has been the editor-in-chief of New York Magazine, a columnist for New York, The New Yorker, and Time. He currently hosts a public radio show, Studio 360. Being so much in the public eye, responsible for shaping onions on so many events, Anderson wrote a novel that questions the importance of his own influence and that of the rest of “the media,” from books and movies to the 24-hour news cycle.
Sensationalists, true-believers of James Bond who fantasize clandestine plots to a righteous end, will love this book. The rest of us, playing our roles as average readers, will simply find it entertaining.