With his new novel True Believers (Random House) Kurt Andersen takes stock of the roiling 1960s through the eyes of a fictional woman whose coming of age then unfolded in predictable and inexplicable ways.
Through his narrator, attorney and law dean Karen Hollander, he explores the psyche and culture of holding secrets and coming clean in the modern era of relativism. This accomplished older woman is writing a tell-all memoir reviewing her own revolutionary life forged from social awakening and feminism.
Andersen, always the sage observer and commentator, analyzes the social-psychological-cultural imperatives of whatever era he writes about. The dawn of the new millennium in Turn of the Century. The mid-19th century in Heyday. The 1960s this time around. His elegant storytelling rises to his witty critique and thorough research. Its warm reception matches that of his previous two novels.
"One of the things I wanted to do I hadn't seen done in novels about the '60s, he says, "is have the long view, have it not entirely set in the '60s but also have like, OK, what do we think about it now? And also see it in all of its thrilling, exciting ways, not just the kind of romantic established ways of seeing it. Seeing it in its problematic ways as well."
Andersen agrees with the general perception of the '60s as a watershed decade.
"I think it was one of those historical inflection points certainly in the United States and in the West generally. Absolutely it was. As I thought about it and really since I've written the book and continued thinking about it, the ways in which it is popularly imagined to have been – as the moment that changed everything – those are true but I think that only tells part of the story. I think we are only now seeing the various impacts and I cant pretend to say them all.
"But certainly in my lifetime there was nothing and probably will be nothing like it."
It marks the first time he's used a first-person narrator and female protagonist. He has Hollander grow up a James Bond nut and his author's conceit uses her adolescent pretend spy romps as preps for a real life assassination plan.
A Bond fan himself, Andersen hosts a 6:30 p.m. Film Streams screening of the first 007 film, Dr. No, on August 17. He's doing a post-screening Q&A and book signing.
Andersen being Andersen, he views vintage Bond through a considered lens.
"The Bond films were version 1.0 of so many of the blockbusters of today," he says. "Obviously the Bourne and Mission Impossible films, but all big, hyper-marketed movies with automatic weapons and explosions and ultra-villains, like the new Batman. Before the Bond films, adults didn't go to comic-book-y movies. And as with Karen Hollander, I think their influence runs deeper and more subtly than their influence on other movies. The way we think about international travel and airports and gadgets and brands and even national security policy."
His book's not an espionage tale but he's winning praise for integrating elements of that genre with others. Animating it is Hollander's disclosure of the high crime she and her accomplices schemed as radicalized college students caught up in '60s' protest fervor. The title proves ironic as she discovers some comrades were not the true believers they appeared. Besides, she and her fellow survivors occupy a far different mental-political space today than four decades ago.
Moving back and forth from the near future to the past, the book overlays the reflective nostalgia of her memoir with her angst-ridden investigation into her and her coconspirators' motives. Their rash choices had unforeseen consequences then. As she peels back the onion skin 40-plus years later, new consequences arise. Just as the plot she helped devise was fraught with danger, so is breaking the secret's silence. Thus, the story sometimes reads like a thriller.
read more: Kurt Andersen’s New Novel ‘True Believers’ Revisits 1960s through Reformed Radical Breaking Her Silence